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DIGITAL PIVOT: Hemporium owners Greg and Rachel Lee added e-commerce to chip away at roughly $40,000 in recently lost revenue.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
DIGITAL PIVOT: Hemporium owners Greg and Rachel Lee added e-commerce to chip away at roughly $40,000 in recently lost revenue.

Nonessential businesses are 'in survival mode'

With business reopening in sight, officials allow curbside pickup and delivery to resume

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The April 21 announcement that Springfield nonessential businesses can immediately resume limited operations arrived as some owners wade through massive revenue losses. This allowed nonessential businesses to resume curbside pickup and delivery. Days later, the city and Greene County issued their Road to Recovery orders on April 30 to reopen most businesses May 4, the same date the state’s stay-at-home mandate is set to end.

Nonessential businesses with eased restrictions include vape and cigarette shops, salons, clothing stores and florists, according to city officials.

Hemporium co-owner Greg Lee estimates the business has lost roughly $40,000 in revenue since the March 24 enactment of the city’s stay-at-home order.

“It’s absolutely survival mode and we’re still there,” Lee said.

He and wife Rachel are currently the only employees at the 2-year-old hemp and cannabidiol shop. He’s relieved to be selling products again after a mandated five-week closure. The parents of two have been relying on their “deep support network of family” to get through.

“I wasn’t going to starve, but it sure wouldn’t look good to have several months of zero revenue,” Lee said.

Road to reopening
Days after Springfield loosened guidelines for nonessential businesses, Gov. Mike Parson announced April 27 that statewide restrictions on social gatherings will lift May 4, and all businesses can reopen under Phase I of the Show Me Strong Recovery plan. However, strict social distancing guidelines must be followed, and local authorities may enforce more restrictive public health requirements for businesses or individuals.

“Some communities may be able to reopen at a faster rate, while others may need to continue some guidance to keep the virus from spreading,” Parson said at an April 27 news conference.

Springfield’s Road to Recovery order, which includes occupancy limits and health guidance for businesses, expires May 31.

According to an SBJ.net poll the week of April 27, 70% of over 840 votes support the city’s decision to reopen in a phased approach. The remainder of voters said it was too soon to begin reopening.

Some local business owners took restrictive action even before the initial stay-at-home order was announced.

Chris Slater, owner of The Albatross Hookah Lounge & Fine Tobacco Emporium, shut down the lounge portion of his shop in mid-March. A week later, the entire shop was temporarily shuttered.

As the business lacks a website, that led to about a month of no sales. The shop averaged near $35,000 in revenue per month in 2019, Slater said, equating to roughly $420,000.

“I’m not going to focus on what we lost,” Slater said, adding he recently qualified for Paycheck Protection Program funds of $35,000. “I’m excited to see how that will help us get things rolling again.”

He said eight employees were laid off when The Albatross closed, but several hourly employees are working again now that curbside service is allowed.

“As soon as the stay-at-home order lifts, we’re going to resume retail business,” Slater said. “We’ll reopen the lounge when it feels appropriate.”

Riding out the storm
Carla Mendenhall, manager at Artistic Works by Lu LLC, said she anticipates reopening the Springfield boutique to customers May 4. The shop is one of two owned by her sister, Lu Knueven, who opened the Springfield brick-and-mortar site in September. Knueven also owns a store of the same name in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Curbside sales for the Springfield shop started April 22, Mendenhall said, adding the boutique began promoting products through its website after temporarily closing last month. The company is positioned to ride out the pandemic storm for a month or two, if necessary, she said.

As a result, the business is paying its $2,300 monthly lease as usual and hasn’t laid off any of its 18 employees at the two stores. Three of those work in Springfield, Mendenhall said.

Tracy Knueven, Lu’s husband, said the business qualified for a $50,000 PPP loan.

“We essentially took it on ourselves to pay the first paycheck that was missed,” he said. “By then, the PPP had been announced. I was in the first wave and fortunate to get that. So none of our employees have missed a paycheck throughout this whole ordeal.”

Knueven said the website had been the sole source of income in recent weeks. Revenue is down around 75% between the two stores from the average month, he said, declining to disclose totals.

At Hemporium, because the business is cannabis-based, it didn’t qualify for any U.S. Small Business Administration loans, Lee said. That made a website revamp a necessity to generate some sales. The company began accepting online purchases for the first time April 20.

“We had it from our standard operating website to a store in like a week,” he said, crediting his wife and marketing agency 2 Oddballs LLC for getting it launched.

Lee said help has also come from landlord Tim Wilson, who is allowing two months of 50% rent payments. The couple are scheduled to pay extra rent later this year to make up the difference.

As customers are on the cusp of shopping inside the store again, Lee said he’s optimistic about getting back to work.

“We’re very, very confident in being able to survive. Our break even is very, very low,” he said, adding the monthly revenue needed “to eke by” is around $15,000. “That’s kind of our mantra: We will be here.”

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