Businesses fighting to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic

ArkLaTex Businesses in survival mode

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Despite the enthusiasm about the beginning of Phase 1 reopening in Louisiana — there are businesses either working hard to survive or on the verge of shuttering their company doors permanently.

There appears to be a common feature among many of the businesses able to succeed in these difficult circumstances.

They adapt to the changes forced upon them, by making changes of their own to keep their revenue stream coming in.

You can see a clear example of this kind of pivoting at a popular diner on Barksdale Boulevard in south Bossier City, known as Cafe USA.

The owner, Lorri Harris, said her singular focus at the moment is just keeping their doors open through this ongoing and unprecedented health crisis.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into making this operation work," she said. We’re a family-owned restaurant and we’re just willing to do whatever is takes and try to survive this.”

Harris recalled that when they were finally able to let their customers eat outside, starting at the beginning of May, she invested nearly $3,000 on a large tent.

It was all intended to make sure patio diners were comfortable and wanting to come back — which Harris told us has worked.

Now, with the beginning of Phase 1 reopening, she and thousands of other businesses are allowed to let customers inside, but only at 25 percent capacity.

Unless there’s a major setback in the number of coronavirus cases, first phase will continue for 21 days, until June 5, when it can rise to 50 percent.

Harris also described how they have adapted in other ways, as well.

“Trying to do ‘to-go orders.’ Hard to compete with the people out at the drive-ins and stuff. But we are doing our very best to stay in the game.”

That's no guarantee for many businesses these days, especially when you consider the pandemic has already led to more than 100,000 companies to close permanently in the U.S.

Those figures came from a study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago.

Cafe USA employees, like Marie Carlson, told us they rely solely on this paycheck to survive.

“She’s (Harris) taken good because without her there’d be no us. So, very happy that we pulled through and worked together to stay open.”

As customers are allowed to dine inside, they're just glad Cafe USA has not folded like 2 percent of all small businesses in this country have done during the crisis.

We also met customers like Bob Stanford and his wife during our visit Friday to this diner. In fact, Stanford predicted we may have already seen what our ‘new normal’ will look like going forward.

“I believe a lot of what we’re seeing now is going to become the new norm,” he said.

But not all businesses have an industry that’s flexible enough to make all sorts of changes. For others, there are just too many questions to say for sure what’s ahead for them.

Just ask Nancy and Jorge Negron, co-owners of the local Fish Window Cleaning franchise, located in Benton.

"There's so much uncertainty. We don't know what to expect. A lot of our customers are not ready yet."

The couple described how they were forced to close, like most other businesses, nearly two months ago. The Negron’s told us that 80 percent of their clients are commercial businesses. These are clients that have not needed window cleaning while their offices have been shut down during the pandemic.

Nancy Negron explained that before they can fully re-start their business, they need to hire more employees. She said that has turned out to be a surprisingly huge challenge in and of itself.

"We had 18 applicants last week and four showed up."

As we spoke in their driveway on this Friday afternoon, Jorge interjected, "It's tough."

Before COVID-19 arrived in March in Louisiana, this franchise of Fish Window Cleaning had well over 500 regular clients. Jorge said the future of those relationships has become their biggest question at the moment.

"It's a waiting game right now to see how many customers we're actually going to get back after this is all over with."

There’s no walking away from this business for the Negron family. They’ve put everything they have into make it succeed, which Nancy elaborated to us.

"We used both of our retirements. So, it's sink or swim."

They are far from alone. Nationally, more than half of all small businesses in the U.S. are on the brink of going out of business over the next six months if the pandemic continues.

That’s according to a new report, released this week by the Society for Human Research Management. That report also concluded 12 percent could be forced to close in the next month.

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