The way Derek Shimeall sees it, 4 by 4 Brewing is one of the lucky ones.
About a month ago as city orders closed the brewery’s taproom and the restaurants they supply, 4 by 4 shifted to canning beer and delivering it to people curbside. Then they started taking orders online.
They’ve been doing pretty well, paying the bills and keeping people employed with some help from a federal paycheck protection loan.
But summer is coming, usually the busiest time of year, and Shimeall said he’s not sure how quickly business will bounce back when things reopen.
“You usually have a May to September window when it’s just really full-blown, all-in, and that’s where you drive all of your revenue,” he said. “Our concern is that’s not going to happen this year.”
Businesses in Springfield and across the country are grappling with that kind of uncertainty as local, state and federal officials prepare to lift restrictions requiring people to stay at home.
President Donald Trump predicted a “big bang” resurgence, but economists, business leaders and polling data suggest it may take many months for things to get back to normal. And even if business rebounds, epidemiologists predict there will be multiple rounds of infection that may require communities to shut down again.
The uncertainty may be particularly difficult for smaller businesses, which might put off buying a big new piece of equipment or hiring new employees, Missouri State University economics professor David Mitchell said in an interview.
“If you’re running a restaurant, for example, why would you buy a new oven if you might have to shut down again in a few months?” he said. “And if you’re a bank, are you going to loan someone the money to do that if they might not be in business much longer?”
“My fear is that investment in capital and people is going to fall off significantly if you constantly have this uncertainty about the future,” he added.
Patrick Nett, the owner of Thai Express, said right before the stay-at-home order went into effect, restaurant sales were declining each day. They were hitting all-time-lows in daily revenues.
“It was scary to see my financial projections and having to plan for layoffs and possibly closing down,” he wrote in an email.
To salvage the situation, he planned some promotions, started offering curbside service and saw the number of orders skyrocket from 40 to around 300 in a single day. Cars were lined up on the street, blocking traffic to get drive-thru services.
“I was both proud and guilty (for blocking traffic) at the same time!” he said.
Thai Express still isn’t making a consistent profit, but Nett said he’s able to pay his bills, keep his employees hired and keep tight until things go back to normal.
He’s still planning on taking it slow, though.
“I personally believe that if a restaurant does not need a dining room to survive, keep it closed until it’s 100 percent safe,” he wrote. “We will continue to monitor and re-evaluate the situation on a week-by-week basis. But I’m not expecting it to happen for at least a couple of months.”
While restaurants may be able to open at least partially soon, other industries are finding it harder to stay afloat.
At Springfield’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, leaders are bracing for a long tail of economic impacts for the hospitality industry.
From April 5-11, local hotel occupancy rates hit “rock bottom” at 21.2 percent — a decrease of nearly 67 percent from the year before, according to the CVB.
Tracy Kimberlin, the organization’s president, said he doesn’t expect those to make a huge rebound any time soon.
“We’ve already had huge (event cancellations),” he said. “And if this goes in stages, which I’m sure it will, it’s pretty likely that large gatherings are not going to be allowed through May and certainly not through June.”
That could put a huge wrench in the local economy, with large meetings, festivals and conventions like the Gold Wing Road Riders Association’s Wing Ding scheduled for the summer months.
Kimberlin said his organization plans on launching an advertising campaign to get people’s families to visit them in Springfield when things reopen in an effort to boost hotel occupancy rates.
But without those major events, it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to make up the difference.
An estimated 20,000 people in Greene County work in the hospitality industry, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association survey says nearly half of all hotel-supported jobs in Missouri were lost due to the coronavirus.
The federal government has helped some businesses with paycheck protection loans, but it’s unclear how long it will take before things get back to normal.
Kimberlin said he’s preparing for effects on the Convention and Visitors Bureau through next year.
“We’re not planning on getting back to a revenue situation that appears relatively normal until late spring or early summer,” he said.
Some sectors of the local economy may rebound faster than others, but it will all depend on people’s willingness to spend money.
Matt Morrow, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s president, said consumer confidence is still an “open question” that will likely be answered when businesses are allowed to reopen.
Springfield and Greene County placed stay-at-home restrictions on their residents earlier than other communities, and the state as a whole, which Morrow said could potentially allow the area to emerge more quickly and fully from the shutdown.
But that’s not to say it’ll be easy.
“I haven’t talked to anyone recently who’s not eager to get out of the house,” he said. “But the question is, where will they go? Where will they feel safe going? Much of that will depend on the steps that businesses take to secure their facilities and make sure their customers and employees are safe.”
It’ll also depend on how confident people are in the re-opening, said Mitchell, the MSU economics professor.
“Let’s say you do get your job back at a restaurant. Are you going to spend all your money if you’re going to be locked down again in three months? No, you’re going to save every last dime,” Mitchell said. “And so that’s going to be your problem with consumer spending.”
Still, local businesses are trying to find ways to keep going in the meantime.
Shimeall, with 4 by 4, said they’re considering distributing more canned beer to make up for some of the product they’d usually send to local restaurants.
“We’re just trying to find ways to keep it going,” he said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to hit the revenues we projected.”
He said the key to their success would be continued public investment.
“People have been really strong supporting local,” he said. “It really, really is making a difference for people like us.”
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