Local businesses see downturn in traffic as people stay home

Published 4:55 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2020

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) itself is not the only cause for concern in small towns. Many small businesses across the South are worried about the effects of the virus on their bottom line.

“We have seen a deep decline of customers coming into the store from what we’re used to this time of the year,” said Marianne Thomasson, owner of Pink Peppers.

Mike Ward, owner of Ward and Company, commented on the decrease in traffic in his store. “…the customer count is down because people are staying home,” said Ward.

He also said he is worried about the future of America after the pandemic.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Ward said. “I think Andalusia has been better than the big places where they just totally shut them down. In America, 60-70 percent of businesses are small businesses like mine. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep the place [Ward and Co.] open.”

Owner of Touch of Country Debbie James said COVID-19 has already slowed things down for her store.

“It [the effect of the coronavirus] has slowed things down a bit already,” said Debbie James, owner of Touch of Country. “We expect more of a change in the future, but it isn’t a big concern as of today, March 17, but it very well could be by the end of March. The change in traffic will affect our part-timers. We [Touch of Country] still want you to come by—to still shop. We keep everything sanitized and try to keep everything fine for people to come in and shop with us. We’re taking our own precautions within the store and hope people still come by to shop and see us.”

Although some businesses are already seeing a change in foot traffic, others have yet to see a significant impact. 

“We haven’t seen much of a change in business, but two clients did cancel today—but they were older,” said Susan Lundsford, manager of Utopia Salon Spa and Boutique.

The salon’s line of work already has sanitary measures in place that are “nothing unusual in our line of business” that others are quickly adopting in other businesses.

“The only way we will close is if the State [Alabama] Board of Cosmetology says we have to [close,]” Lundsford said. “I do have a concern that we may be forced to close, just because what they say goes and most businesses follow suit. We’re not doing anything extra. The employees always wash their hands before going to the next client and sterilize combs after use.”

Another precaution being used by both businesses and restaurants is calling in an order and getting it outside the store, which reduces contact and the potential spread of germs. 

“We [the Co-Op] have always done call-ins for our elderly customers but we wanted people to know that it’s open to everyone,” said Tonya Westmoreland, bookkeeper of the Co-Op in Andalusia. “We actually just posted on our Facebook…saying that we’ll be taking call-in orders and loading customers’ cars for them.”

Smaller businesses rely mostly on local customers to make their living and encourage people within the community to continue supporting small businesses.

“Pink Pepper’s does offer delivery and shipping options from the store and we can be contacted through our social media,” said Thomasson. “We’re even considering closing for temporary hours due to the lack of customers right now. This is the time that we [small businesses] need our community and their support.”