Will Montgomery-area Small Businesses Survive the Pandemic?
Updated: 4 days ago
Jon Lambert of Rocky Hill owns the Princeton Record Exchange (PREX) — ranked one of the top indie record stores in the country. PREX just celebrated its 40th anniversary on Friday.
When the governor shut down the state this weekend, Lambert laid off nearly everyone on his staff.
“At this point, we’ve laid off just about everybody. Obviously, they’re scared. I don’t blame them, I’m scared too,” Lambert said in a recent interview with CNBC business news.
“I can’t collect unemployment as a biz owner,” he said. “It’s one thing when you close for a bad snow storm. But, when it’s open-ended like this, it’s very unsettling.”
Lambert rents 4300 square feet of retail space in downtown Princeton. “I won’t give numbers, but most people would be staggered by the amount of rent we pay,” Lambert said. “And, the bills keep coming. I don’t know how long we can last."
PREX is not set up to handle mail orders or to sell online, according to the PREX website.
“If you truly want to help small businesses," Lambert says, "and to have small business owners to be able to trickle down to employees, I’m begging you for some sort of help with rent. That to me is the number one issue,” he said. “It’s all well and good to say, ‘give people across the country $1,000 or $2,000 bucks.’ But that is not going to keep our businesses going. You have to help me with my rent. You have to help me with my fixed costs if you want a business like mine to succeed.”
Lambert raises important issues. Can a landlord evict a small business owner for not paying during a time when businesses are being ordered to shut down? Will insurance help pay the bill? Will business owners be forced to take out loans to pay the bills? Say retail rent is $8,000 a month and a business is closed for three months. Even at zero percent interest, how does a local business owner reopen after the crisis with a new $24,000 debt?
NEW JERSEY FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE SURVEY
The NJ Economic Development Authority, in partnership with the governor's office, collected information from small-to-medium business owners to inform the development of new state programs and initiatives to support organizations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"We’re trying to generate responses quickly as they will use this information to guide the development of short-term support that will be launched imminently," says Melissa DeFreest, a director with the NJ Economic Development Authority, in a press release.
As of now, the only assistance offered is a job portal, which does not help local business owners very much. Hopefully, there will be some solutions on the federal , state, county, and local municipal levels for small businesses soon.
COVID-19 JOBS & HIRING PORTAL
State officials are building a centralized resource to match talent with opportunities in industries on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Many businesses across the state have urgent hiring needs during the COVID-19 emergency and are looking to hire thousands of workers, including those who lost their jobs or have had hours reduced as a result of COVID-19," DeFreest noted in a press release.
Visit the NJ COVID-19 Jobs and Hiring Portal to learn about opportunities. Companies hiring include: Amazon, UPS, ShopRite, Wawa, Bayada Home Health, Bancroft Health Care and Human Services, FedEx, Blue Apron, Inspira Health, Hackensack Meridian Health Care, Spring Hills Senior Communities, ServiceMaster Commercial Cleaning by Alliance, and Price-Rite grocery stores an food delivery. McCaffrey's Markets is looking to hire about 15, according to the portal.
Ironically, some of the businesses showing a drastic increase in job opportunities — Amazon and Blue Apron, for example — are the very businesses that make life difficult for smaller local shops. Amazon says it needs 100,000 additional full- and part-time delivery workers!
Bagel Barn owner Orlando Graziani says he is offering curbside pickup. Just call and pay by credit card, give the make and model of your vehicle, and pull up at the curb in front of the store. Graziani is considering offering delivery as well.
"We are a hub in the community," Graziani says. "People like to come in and sit down. This is affecting our business. Everyone is nervous."
"I would say our business is down by about 20 percent right now," he said during an interview at his store. "A lot of our standing orders with the car dealerships and all the churches we have on Sundays are cancelled. There's no more gatherings, so any catering where we would have a group of 12 or 15 have been cancelled. We are not just a walk-in business."
"Also, the kids are all home but the parents are fearful for them to go out," Graziani says. "The kids are a tremendous force in our business."
"This is affecting everybody," he says. "So we are just praying. We want everybody in our community to remain safe." Bagel Barn is committed to remaining open during its regular business hours.
BUSINESS OWNER/EMPLOYER RESOURCES
• NJ Business First Stop Initiative: This website offers guidance to businesses on how COVID-19 will impact them and what resources are available.
• New Jersey Economic Development Authority njeda.com/about/Public-Information/Coronavirus-Information
This site has information for New Jersey businesses, including information on the waiver for specific requirements relating to employee presence under EDA incentive programs.
• New Jersey Department of Labor
Information focused on employer strategies during the COVID-19 crisis.