First and foremost, the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the world is a human tragedy — people sick, people dying, lives disrupted. This includes the two known coronavirus patients currently in Loudoun County, and likely others unknown.
But on a local business level, the coronavirus is having a big — and growing — impact. The end worry being it could drive some already struggling businesses over the cliff.
We heard from Tony Stafford, the owner of Ford’s Fish Shack, which includes three restaurants in Loudoun County as well as a food truck and catering business. He says his business is down 20 percent since the coronavirus concerns started to grow and he’s worried about his fellow restauranteurs.
“I know a lot of restaurants are feeling the pain the last few days,” Stafford told The Burn. “I don’t want to see any restaurant not make it through this tough time.”
Greek Unique, a sandwich shop in Ashburn, says their lunch crowd has remained strong, but they’ve seen a dip at the dinner hour. “For us, I’d say about 10 percent (down). Not a huge drop, but it’s noticeable,” said George Marinos, one of the restaurant’s owners.
There’s also the trickle down effect — if business drops at a restaurant, fewer diners and fewer shifts means waiters and staff may see their income drop suddenly. Outside vendors that support the business could see their accounts shrink as well.
At least many restaurants and businesses are established and have a loyal customer base. Think of the many new businesses preparing to open in the coming weeks and months. The Burn covers these openings extensively and local managers and entrepreneurs are likely reeling at the sudden change in the restaurant and retail environment.
In the near term, new businesses like Texas Roadhouse, LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, Saigon Outcast, Cafe Rio, Buford’s Biscuits, Lee Tai Tai Asian Bistro, Lost Fox Hideaway, Bruster’s Real Ice Cream, YogaSix and more — all are supposed to open their doors in the next few weeks or months.
Row House, a boutique fitness center opening at the new Ashbrook Marketplace shopping center, has pushed back their March opening in light of the coronavirus concerns.
“We’re actually delaying our opening by a couple of weeks until we can get our arms around things and feel confident that we’re not putting our members, staff or the community at risk,” said Row House owner Barry Carpe.
Many Loudoun County residents have probably received emails from businesses they frequent or seen their posts on social media. It’s become critical for restaurants and other businesses to address their cleaning and sanitizing practices and explain additional staff training and other steps they’ve taken to protect their customers.
“Please be assured that our teams are fully trained and committed to the strictest sanitation guidelines. We have always taken these practices seriously but considering the current concerns around public safety, we are increasing the frequency of our cleaning protocols,” AhSo Restaurant posted on Facebook.
Jason Maddens, the owner and chef at AhSo, says business has been steady so far, but reservations for this coming weekend are lower than usual. He is putting together a special menu of items that “travel well” and will be sending that out to his customers who might like to get carry-out food or order via Uber Eats.
“(Thursday) was the big ‘pandemic day’ plus the day they cancelled school, so I think it could decline from here,” Maddens said.
Most if not all local restaurants and retail businesses are staying open and there has already been a push on social media asking people to support them during this difficult time. Among the suggestions — ordering carry out or delivery from restaurants, or purchasing store and restaurant gift cards. Gift cards would theoretically help businesses with cash flow now in return for services and goods later.
“Locally owned restaurants and businesses are hurting,” wrote Andrea Khoury, a public relations expert and social media influencer, on Facebook. “Go in or go online or call, buy a gift card, and use it when you’re ready to stop social distancing.”