Small businesses across Fayetteville have had to temporarily close amid the COVID-19 pandemic, causing some to lay off their entire staffs bearing uncertainty about the future of their company.
President Trump officially recommended that social gatherings be limited to less than 10 people March 16 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus disease. Businesses across the country, starting with social venues like bars and lounges, began closing or limiting their services to comply with Trump’s guidelines following this announcement.
Hannah Withers, the co-owner of Maxine’s Taproom and Leverett Lounge said she has laid off her entire staff of 22 people.
Twenty percent of surveyed Americans said they – or someone in their household – have lost a job because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Americans filed a record 6.6 million unemployment claims during the week of March 28, according to Pew Research Center.
With the type of license Withers has for Maxine’s, a private club, she is not allowed to do any takeout service as the license only permits sales at the club itself, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
“We’re not allowed to be open at all or do any amount of sales out of our bar,” Withers said. “There’s just no real way to reshoot stock costs in a retail sort of way.”
Withers has negotiated with her landlords for the properties on a way to spread out the rent payments and has asked for deferred payments on utilities, she said.
At Leverett Lounge, Withers has begun a program for unemployed restaurant workers called “Feed the Heard,” where community members can purchase a meal for an in-need member of the food service industry.
Leverett Lounge has been transformed from a restaurant to a one-stop shop for people in need of hygiene products, printing services and unemployment help, Withers said.
“It’s sort of interesting the way that our dining room has shifted into a packaging plant of all of these different things that we are sharing with people in our industry,” Withers said.
Withers said she also does a daily check-in with her employees in a Facebook group message to ensure they are staying safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. Withers and her employees also plan to have weekly group video calls through Zoom to “see each other's faces and give (themselves) a sense of normalcy.”
Bo Counts, owner of Pinpoint Fayetteville, has also laid off his entire staff and closed his bar in response to federal guidelines. He thinks the government’s handling of the outbreak adds to the already-difficult climate Arkansas presents for bars, he said.
All private clubs are required to purchase their liquor from a retailer rather than a wholesale distributor, meaning the club will incur less of a profit when selling to consumers, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
Counts thinks this, coupled with the fact that as a private club he is required to pay a 28.75% tax on every drink sold, is only worsened by the fact that he is going to be closed during the time of year he can make the most money, he said.
“Say everything is finished in June and we’re trying to go back to normal, well we’re a college town and a huge portion of our customers are gone,” Counts said. “It’s like, ‘Oh crap, we’ve still got June, July and August to try and get through to wait for a lot of our people to come back.’”
Counts thinks that clubs and bars, having been the first types of venues being asked to close, are now the last to be thought of when it comes to receiving aid from the government.
“We’ve actually been closed the longest, and there’s really nothing being done or thought about to support us in this time,” Counts said.