BizWorthy: Many Charlotte Businesses Take Hit With 'Stay At Home' Order

Mar 26, 2020

Mecklenburg County's "stay at home" order goes into effect Thursday morning. That means more businesses will be feeling the pain. Under the order, only businesses that provide what are considered "essential" services can still operate. That includes, among other things, doctor's offices, pharmacies, grocery stores and banks. It also allows restaurants to continue providing takeout and delivery.

For more on the state of Charlotte's business community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, so many businesses have already closed their doors. Do you have a sense of how many more this order will really impact?

Tony Mecia: Well, I think there's no number that the county has provided. If you look at the order itself, it's a 16-page order. And it lays out what is an "essential" business. But it's a very long list of what is an "essential" business. It's not just hospitals and grocery stores. It's a much bigger list that includes places that sell alcohol, so wine shops, the ABC stores are still open. Pawnshops, payday lenders, golf courses. I mean, there's all sorts of things that are on this list that are deemed essential that you and I, Marshall, might not think of it as being strictly essential.

So it's a it's a fairly long list of places that are allowed to continue operating. And so I think there'll be a lack of clarity, and a lot of businesses this week were looking at, "Does this apply to me? Can I keep my doors open?" But, you know, again, a lot of these businesses that are offices, a lot of their people are already working from home. So even if they're nonessential, those are businesses that are still operating.

So I sort of question how many more businesses are going to shut down. I think you'll see some in retail that are affected. But areas like construction and manufacturing look to be mostly safe in terms of being allowed to keep going. So it might not be as widespread as you might imagine.

Terry: But of the businesses that it does affect, you mentioned retail as one example. Have you heard from them, from business owners in that sector about what they're going to do to survive this latest round of restrictions?

Mecia: Well, you know, every section is kind of going little by little on these things. You know, first it was the bars and restaurants. And then it was an order this week by the governor about, you know, nail salons, tattoo parlors, barber shops, hair salons -- those closed on Wednesday. So, you know, it's little by little. And I think you're going to see more of those close. It's certainly a tough time for retail. And, you know, some of those that are able to go online have some online presence that might help a little bit. But, you know, certainly a lot of this is centered in retail.

Gatherings also are limited to no more than 10 people, per the "stay at home" order.
Credit Joe O'Connor / WFAE

Terry: Yeah. I mean, for example, you mentioned tattoo parlors. That's one that really can't go online. At least I assume they can't. Are we going to see places that they can't make that transition to online? Are we going to see them go out of business if they can't survive? We've heard certainly with restaurants, some of them saying they can't even survive a month being closed. So could we see some of these other places close?

Mecia: Yeah. I mean, there is a study a couple of years ago by JP Morgan Chase that looked at the average amount of money that small businesses had. And restaurants on average, it said, had about 16 days of working capital, of which, you know, they could get by without any revenue coming in. We're sort of approaching that on the restaurant side. But even retailers, your average small retailer has only about 20 days of money, of cash reserves.

So we're certainly going to hit some of those thresholds here pretty soon. And I think you are going to see a lot of businesses struggle. You know, there's a lot of talk in in Raleigh and in Washington and even locally about how can we help these small businesses? But, you know, they sort of need the help now. These bills are coming due now, and it just takes a while for the government to try to mobilize some of that support.

Terry: Do business owners feel like their concerns are being heard as much as those coming from health care providers?

Mecia: I'm not sure that that's the case. I mean, some do and some don't. I think I've talked to a lot of business owners that say, listen, they understand the nature of this, that it's very fast-moving and it's very fluid and that you can't just create policy on a dime and get help out to people. But I do think there is, I'm sensing some of the business owners I've talked to, a little bit of a sentiment of, "Is this is this overkill? Are we doing too much here? Are the economic consequences that are that we're going through, are they so disastrous? Are they too big?"

So I think they're asking a lot of these questions. I mean, certainly everybody is attuned to the fact that we're in a public health crisis. But I think there is some question of the approach.

Terry: One industry you found that doesn't seem to be slowing down right now is the funeral industry.

Mecia: Well, you know, people, unfortunately, Marshall, are continuing to pass away and they need those services. That is also designated as an essential service under the "stay at home" order. It is causing some changes to that industry. In the past where you might have had a large memorial service, we're seeing those cut back as large gatherings are now frowned upon. So I think it's very difficult for some of these families that they're grieving and they have a loved one that's passed away and they're unable to sort of connect with a lot of the friends and the support network that they would ordinarily have.

Terry: Tony, you went down to the front line, as it were, last weekend at a Harris Teeter in Charlotte and witnessed a line out the door and then a rush on toilet paper. How bad was it?

Mecia: Well, I got a reader tip on this. Somebody said, "Listen, you need to go to the Harris Teeter at 6:45 a.m. right before they open. The line is very long and people make a stampede for aisle nine, which is where the toilet paper is." And that's exactly what happened. There were maybe 150-200 people waiting outside. Doors open. It was fairly orderly, but they did move pretty much in unison toward aisle nine, which was the paper aisle. There was some toilet paper there. One guy grabbed about six packs of the Charmin, the 16-pack of the Charmin. Six of those, put him in his cart and was a little bit surprised when he got to the register and they told them that they had limited it to three.

So you do see some hoarding.It was interesting, Marshall, because I talked to some people. I said, "Well, what are you going into the grocery store to get?" They said, "Oh, chicken. Fruit." And I said, "Are you gonna grab some toilet paper?" And they said, "Oh, yeah, of course." So that, you know, they're not necessarily there to grab a bunch of a whole bunch of toilet paper. But if the opportunity presents itself, a lot of them are making sure that they don't run out of toilet paper. The supplies are still good. It's just that demand is so much greater for a lot of things that you're seeing a bunch of empty shelves. One of the ones I noted this week also was a little bit of a run on hair dye now that the hair salons are closed.

Terry: All right, Tony. Thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

Terry: That's Tony Mercia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

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