The news cycle over the past few days has been totally dominated by COVID-19, or the coronavirus. This outbreak of illness, which has now led to President Trump declaring a national emergency, has affected all of us in one way or another. Many local business owners are currently dealing with a sharp decline in the amount of customers that they are seeing come through the door. Meanwhile, others are stretched to their limits as they attempt to provide the goods and services that are in high demand during this difficult time.
Mark Shepherd, owner of the sports bar and restaurant Shep’s Place in downtown Corbin, is concerned about how the recent cancellations of major sporting events will negatively affect his business in the coming days and weeks. Despite the circumstances, he is still urging everyone to get out and patronize their favorite local establishments. Just be a little more careful, and pay closer attention to your personal hygiene while doing so…
“I give it another week in this country before you won’t see people driving down the street,” Shepherd said when talking about the current state of affairs in the United States. “We have an unnecessary panic in my opinion. Is this serious? Absolutely. But we cannot let it bring us to our knees.”
“We cannot stay in business without generating money,” Shepherd continued. “This will cost us thousands.”
Shepherd is not just concerned for his own business, but for all small businesses in the position of trying to figure out ways to make up for a sudden lack of cash flow. “The backbone of this country is small business,” he said. “If you look at everything that’s been closing down lately, it’s not small businesses. It’s not the blue-collar workers. We’re still going in everyday, trying to earn a living.”
Shepherd said that continuing to frequent local businesses right now is worth the risk. “Once you put fear in people and they panic, they also stop spending money. But this whole country is built on spending money, whether it be for a house, for a car, or for food. This country doesn’t work without people spending money, and as fast as this thing is moving, in another week or two we’ll all be in big trouble.”
Shepherd said that while other parts of the country may not be feeling the immediate economic effects of the ongoing virus scare, communities like those found in our region certainly are. “Small town America is where it’s going to hurt more than anywhere else,” he said. “This could destroy people’s well-being. Everybody will feel the impact of this, but the best way to beat it, as Americans, is to get out and continue doing our everyday thing. Live our lives. Spend money.”
Next door to Shep’s Place, Tim Lowe and Kevin Prince were not as busy as they would have preferred Friday afternoon inside City Barber Shop. “People are afraid to get out and do anything, or go anywhere,” Lowe said, adding that the near-constant flow of media reports on the outbreak are likely playing a large role in keeping people in their homes right now.
Prince agreed, adding, “I’ve never seen people react to anything like they have to this. People are scared to death.”
One big concern for Lowe, Prince and other barbers is the idea of social distancing, or people making a strong effort to keep a certain amount of distance between themselves and others. Obviously, physical contact is necessary for anyone cutting your hair, or giving you a shave.
“I just read an e-mail from the Barber Board (Kentucky Board of Barbering) about how people keep contacting them, wanting to know what shops should do,” Prince explained. “We already have sanitation and sterilization practices, though, so as long as you’re doing what’s required, there should be no reason why people should be afraid to come to the barber shop.”
Prince understands being careful, but also warned against being overly cautious, saying, “I think what’s getting lost in all of this is the small businesses that are being affected by it. When all of this is over with, and people come out to see that the sky didn’t fall, some of the places that they’re used to doing business with might not be around.”
While businesses like restaurants and barber shops are dealing with the immediate consequences of the coronavirus crisis, others like ReMax real estate agent Mike Campbell are more concerned with the long term, trickle down effects that could be yet to come.
“We won’t know the extent of it until we can finally get this under control, and the economy can start recovering,” Campbell said. “I absolutely do think that the economy will recover, but what is it going to take for us to get this under control first?”
“This is serious,” Campbell continued. “Not only the coronavirus itself, but this is a serious economic disruption. Has it trickled down to us in the real estate market yet? Not as much, but people like Mark (Shepherd) are experiencing an immediate impact. This is supposed to be ‘March Madness,’ so for the next three weeks he’s going to feel that as a restaurant and bar owner. I think that many of the rest of us won’t feel it until after it has had the chance to trickle down some more.”
As for how the virus has forced him to change his day-to-day approach as a realtor, Campbell said, “I am having to contact customers and offer specific instructions in order to keep buyers and sellers safe. I also have to be more mindful of sharing confined spaces, shaking hands, washing my hands several times a day and making sure to wipe everything down and use a whole lot more disinfectant.”
“Just look at how fast this has moved in the past 48 hours,” Campbell said. “And think about what’s going to happen in the next 48 hours. When people become afraid to list their homes because of what might happen with the economy, when they don’t feel like they can make that move, that’s what I am afraid of. It’s going to have an impact on everybody. The bottom line is, it may hit people like Mark now, but it will hit other people later.”
Still, Campbell is doing his best to keep an optimistic outlook despite the negativity of the past few days, saying, “The economy has been good up until this. Maybe it will be strong enough to help us rebound when all of this does finally settle down.”
Finally, Martin Norvell of Norvex Supply in Corbin has been facing issues of a completely different type this week. As a business-to-business distributor of cleaning supplies, Norvell and his team have worked diligently to make sure that orders can be filled first and foremost, and then successfully delivered to customers from all over the state working in a wide range of settings such as medical, industrial, government, and in schools.
“The first thing that we ran into supply chain issues were the dust masks,” Norvell explained, also mentioning that certain amounts of protective gloves have started being allocated in order to help ensure that a shortage doesn’t occur.
Norvell said that processes are in place to help prevent hoarding situations when it comes to certain products, and contingency plans do exist in case of pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing, so even though the demand for cleaning supplies may suddenly become much higher, the likelihood of anything actually becoming unavailable to someone in need is very low.
The biggest challenge right now, Norvell said, is to adjust orders as facilities shut down due to widespread illness. For example, the supplies that a school would need when classes are in session is very different from what they would need if the school were to close in order to undergo an extensive disinfecting process.
As for the overall effect that COVID-19 has had on business lately, Norvell said, “I can say, unequivocally, that there has never been anything that compares to this. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and this is just something that we haven’t experienced in our industry.”
Whether it be serving a plate of food, cutting hair, selling a house or shipping out cleaning supplies, coronavirus is causing concern for pretty much everyone across all walks of life. We still have much to learn about the disease in the coming days, and no doubt about it, we will also be dealing with the economic fallout for some time to come.