WORTHINGTON — When Gov. Tim Walz issued a March 18 executive order requiring all non-essential businesses to temporarily close to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the news didn’t hit Salon Seven owner Jen Smith until 8:45 p.m. — nearly four hours after she left work for the day.
“We were closed for 10 weeks,” Smith said, noting a June 1 return to her Worthington hair salon. “In the meantime, we lived in two-week increments, waiting for Gov. Walz to decide if we could reopen.”
The salon is Smith’s sole source of income, and for those 10 weeks she had both living and business expenses to cover.
“You still have to pay electricity, the phone bill, building rent, wi-fi, Culligan — it’s just like having a second home, but yet no one was here,” Smith said. “The bills kept coming.”
She’s thankful for friends and family who helped her get by, and especially appreciated customers buying gift certificates during the closure so she had some income. Also a great help was the ability to delay payment on her utility bill for the salon.
Earlier this month, Smith’s business was one of 140 locally to receive a small business grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, administered locally by Nobles County and the city of Worthington. The money allowed her to catch up on bills, and she’s hanging onto what’s left.
“We don’t know what the future’s going to hold,” she said. “We’re more worried about November, December, January. Having this grant come in makes me a little less nervous as far as what’s around the corner.”
While Minnesota hair salons were forced to be closed for 10 weeks, that wasn’t the case for fast food restaurants that could serve customers at drive-thru windows. However, not all speedy meal providers have drive-up service.
Curt Thompson, owner-operator of Jimmy John’s in Worthington, said he was limited to delivery-only service during the early months of the pandemic and it made for some “uneasy months.” While his business is a franchise, it’s still independently operated and requires Thompson to dedicate many hours to the job of feeding not only the community, but his family.
“We took a hit on all aspects of how the business was run,” said Thompson, adding that seating inside the restaurant is still not allowed.
“Since we don’t have a drive-thru, this has caused our sales to decrease,” Thompson shared. “We tried our hardest to make sure all employees were getting as many hours as they needed, but in the beginning of the pandemic this was not always easy. No matter how hard or how many hours I worked, I made sure that each of my employees were bringing home a paycheck.”
When Thompson, with a wife and a six-month-old son, was awarded a CARES grant, he was beyond thankful.
“I want to first thank everyone in charge of putting the CARES package together,” he said. “I feel like, from the bottom of my heart, that I owe someone in this town and maybe many others.
“My wife and I are truly blessed that the CARES Act contributed to this year’s answered prayers,” he added. “We have a very solid team and with the financial assistance we were given, we were able to boost our payroll and provide care packages for each of our current employees. The care package consisted of gift cards to local businesses and some goodies to share with their own families.”
In downtown Worthington, Robyn Moser at The Stag was forced to shutter the doors to her clothing store from March 27 through May 17. That didn’t stop her from creatively serving customers.
“With a lot of community support, people still needed things,” Moser said, adding that customers would come to the back door and she’d take clothing options out to them.
What really hurt her business was the lack of high school proms this spring.
“We didn’t get to see our prom kids, which was really hard,” Moser said. “It was a big financial hit this year for us, as well as so many others.”
Moser recalled driving through downtown Worthington on March 27, seeing all of the storefronts closed and not knowing how long that would remain the case.
“I’ll be honest, I cried,” she said. “The night I put that key in the lock, it was very scary. I probably cried for half an hour.”
Moser fears what the pandemic and this winter may bring for not only businesses, but for the kids in school, mental health, health care and law enforcement, and said there’s a lot of pressure on the community.
Some of that pressure, thankfully, was alleviated with CARES Act funding. Moser is thankful to be in a small community where city and county leaders wanted to help out their small businesses.
“I think our city jumped on it right away to try to get funds into our hands so we could keep our doors open and bring back our employees,” Moser said. “It didn’t make up for everything, but it really does help. It just enables us to try to continue to do business."
Launching a new law firm during a pandemic wasn’t ideal timing, but Erin Schutte Wadzinski, owner of Kivu Immigration Law in downtown Worthington, has made the best of a challenging situation. Receiving CARES Act funds has helped her to alleviate some of the financial pressure she and other local businesses are facing as the pandemic moves into its eighth month.
“The new grant money will be a nice supplement over the next few months, but depending on how long the pandemic continues, small businesses may need another round of support to stay operational throughout the duration of the pandemic,” she said.
Schutte Wadzinski plans to use the funds to better equip her office for safe in-person client meetings and also to invest in the tools and processes necessary to make virtual work and client meetings more feasible.
“I’m preparing for a period of time this winter when we may not be able to meet clients in person under any circumstance,” she said. “We need to continue to evolve our practice to meet client demands in a safe way.”
The business owners who spoke to The Globe said they are thankful for everyone who chooses to buy local. Even selling a can of hairspray to a customer, Smith said, helps to put food in her kids’ mouths.
“You can go to Amazon or drive to Sioux Falls (South Dakota), but this puts gas in my car,” said an emotional Smith. “(The pandemic) taught me the importance of buying local.
“With the (CARES) money from the city, you can guarantee I’m going to shop local,” she added. “I am so thankful because I don’t know what the future holds. I’m going to support Worthington.”