by Emily Karlichek
From school and library closures to an order that closed restaurant dining rooms and bars across the state, measures to slow the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will continue to challenge Farmington area businesses and families in the coming weeks.
We talked with three business owners who are facing those challenges. Here’s what they had to say.
“It’s been hard to avoid hearing about COVID-19, but we have realized just over the past week that we needed to start discussing some business planning and think about any operational adjustments for the upcoming weeks,” said Scot Pelc, owner of Sidecar Slider Bar Farmington.
Dan Paulson, co-owner of Paulson’s Audio & Video in Farmington Hills, said he has been keyed into the situation since it became local.
“We’re always monitoring the news and we have plans for all kinds of unknowns; in the past couple weeks we’ve been proactively helping our staff and clients to understand what’s going on and prepare for change,” he said. “We had to find new ways to navigate major national events in 2001 and 2008, and we learned a lot during those times that can be applied again. We just know that our community will get through this together.”
At Merle Norman in downtown Farmington, owner Karen Gara has been preparing herself and her team for some time.
“I’d been keeping an eye on the international coverage since late December, and I wasn’t panicked or worried, but I started getting ready because I could see it coming,” she said. “I started stocking up on sanitizer and disinfectants and making a plan, and began having regular staff meetings in the salon to discuss protocol with staff about four weeks ago.”
The impact on local businesses has been substantial, even before Monday’s order, which also affects fitness centers, and entertainment venues.
“About three weeks ago, once the stock market numbers went down and then more news coverage and event cancellations started happening, we started seeing a change,” said Gara.
In the past week, the salon has seen their daily customer count drop from around 35 to 15. They are still getting some customers but Karen describes her salon these days as “almost a ghost town.” She maintains a positive outlook and her messaging to her clients and the community is, “we’re in this together.”
On Monday afternoon, Gara decided to limit direct client services, but will continue to take orders for retail products with curbside pick-up.
Pelc is “definitely seeing below-average sales as of Friday, March 13th,” but cited school closures and other health guidelines as contributing factors. With carryout, Doordash delivery and gift cards purchased by phone or in person, his team is “here and ready to feed [their] stir-crazy neighbors!”
He said the new restrictions for restaurants have his team getting creative to work through the uncertainty.
While traffic in Paulson’s showroom has slowed a bit, those who now find themselves working from home have been reaching out with requests for service or upgrades.
“Last weekend we had four or five clients each day who set up an onsite consultation for entertainment and smart home system upgrades, specifically because of suddenly finding themselves working from home indefinitely,” he said. “What happened back in 2001 is that people took intended travel funds and reallocated it to making their home as fun, comfortable and safe as possible, so it looks like that may be the case for some clients during this situation.”
Employees & Clients
Sidecar staff has been understanding, “but servers and bartenders must have guests in front of them to make money,” Pelc said. “We’re looking at controlling our variable costs, but fixed costs like rent and utilities don’t go away – even if our guests do – for any period of time, so we’re hoping to negotiate relief on some of those things at this time.”
Everyone is “taking it week by week,” strictly following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to keep the restaurant clean and sanitized, making sure all staff is healthy at work, and collaborating with other businesses on promos or partnerships.
Gara, who also operates a service-related business downtown, is relying on her survivor mindset. “We all live paycheck to paycheck, myself included. With three stores to pay rent for, and a staff I love to help through this, I’m worried.”
As a leader for her staff, Gara said, “I have to stay strong. I don’t think I’m any more knowledgeable about this than anyone else, but I am diligent, my head is not in the sand, and I realize there is no guarantee that businesses will recover from it. I have been diligent in messaging to my clients and staff what we are doing to support them. I just want everyone to stay safe and healthy, and we will rally together to get through this.”
Paulson’s has adopted work-from-home practices, with an in-store staff of no more than 12 at any time, and their business is naturally conducive to social distancing.
“We are taking all recommended CDC and WHO (World Health Organization) measures to keep the space safe. Staff who can work from home are instructed to do so, and anyone not feeling well is asked to stay home,” Paulson said. “We are welcoming visitors to the showroom and responding to service and support calls as always, but we are staying aware and supporting our clients with everyone’s safety as the top priority.”
Even with an uncertain future, all three local businesses have maintained a giving spirit. Gara still provides services for charity events and has not asked for refunds of charity event tickets she’s purchased.
Sidecar started offering free kids’ meals with the purchase of an adult meal to curb the impact of missed school meals. Pelc said that offer will continue through Friday, March 20, with any changes communicated on their social channels.
For Paulson, reaching out to close partners like CARES of Farmington Hills with financial support was a no-brainer, as CARES meets the needs of families throughout the community struggling to get enough food.