BizWorthy: Some Mecklenburg Businesses Can Reopen, But It's Not As Easy As It May Seem

Apr 30, 2020

Some businesses in Mecklenburg County that had been forced to close because of the coronavirus can reopen Thursday. The county's stay-at-home order was lifted Wednesday and Mecklenburg is now under just the statewide stay-at-home order, which is less restrictive.

Businesses that can now reopen in the county include car dealerships, landscaping companies, electronics stores and bookshops. But suddenly reopening businesses that have been closed for over a month isn't as easy as it may sound.

For more on this, we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, you report there are several reasons why it can be complicated to reopen a business suddenly. Like what?

Tony Mecia: Well, you know, Marshall, if you think about it, you had all these businesses that shut down almost overnight, but reopening them is really going to take a little bit longer. There are all kinds of logistical and legal things that businesses have to think about before they reopen. You know, they've gone without staff maybe for a few weeks. You know, their inventories, what they were selling in March might not be appropriate to sell in May, that kind of thing. I mean, there are really a number of different things they have to look at their regulatory issues. So as we start reopening parts of our economy, a lot of businesses really have a lot of questions about what the best way is to do that.

You think about bringing employees back, you think, "OK, well, all I need to do is call people up and get them back in here." Well, a lot of people don't want to come back to work because they're afraid about their health or they have child care issues. Maybe some of them are drawing unemployment benefits, which maybe in some cases, you know, more generous than what they could make if they're being paid to work. So there are all kinds of different issues that employers are going to have to deal with as we talk about reopening segments of our economy.

Terry: And this could be a preview of sorts of what we may see when businesses around the state begin to reopen. That could happen in just a little more than a week, now, if the governor decides to begin lifting restrictions after May 8th when his stay-at-home order ends.

Mecia: Right. You know, we're starting to see a few of these things come off. Mecklenburg County changed some of its rules that, as you mentioned, are allowing certain businesses to start opening Thursday. Vape shops, furniture stores, mattress sales, things like that. And we could see some more starting next week if the state continues to meet some of these goals that the governor laid out in terms of the numbers of hospitalizations, the number of positive cases. And if we meet those, I think the hope among a lot of businesses is maybe we could start seeing additional retailers open May 9th and then possibly by the end of the month, based on the governor's timetable, maybe some additional businesses -- bars and restaurants. You know, it's going to be a gradual process over a number of weeks and months. It's not just a matter of flipping the switch and everybody's back to normal.

Terry: And even when businesses do reopen, that's no guarantee that people will feel comfortable enough going out and shopping, right? I mean, is that going to be a problem in the long term?

Mecia: A lot of businesses really are seeing that as a problem. If you look at the surveys and if you just think anecdotally about people that you know, I mean, there are there are a number of people that I think are for a number of weeks at least, are going to want to stay at home as much as possible. While a lot of people are eager to kind of get out and do something after being in their houses for four or five weeks, that there are still a fairly large number of people who are not at all comfortable going out and shopping or going out to restaurants.

Terry: Small businesses around the country got some good news this week. The U.S. Small Business Administration is again taking applications for hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency loans to help them get through the pandemic. This is the second round of such funding. Tony, last week at this time, you said many Charlotte businesses who had applied for a loan in the first round were not able to get one before the money ran out. In some cases, they didn't even get an application in before the money was gone. Are they optimistic they'll be able to get one this time? What are you hearing from local businesses?

Mecia: I would say they are hopeful. But, you know, there are no guarantees until the money comes in. I think even with this latest round of funding, I think it's not going to quite be adequate to cover everybody who wants one. Marshall, you and I have talked about how the rollout of this was sort of I mean, it's been very quick. There are a lot of bumps in getting it done. It was aggravating for a lot of businesses who applied. A percentage of businesses did receive the loans. I think the number I've seen was about 20% of those eligible did receive it in North Carolina. I think with about 40,000 small businesses that there are a huge number that applied that either didn't hear anything or the time ran out. I think they're hopeful that in this round that they're going to be able to get that funding. But, you know, they're not certain that's going to happen. You know, you do see a lot of banks rushing to try to get those applications in before the money runs out, again.

Terry: Hospitals are among the businesses that had to change how they operate almost overnight because of the pandemic. One thing Atrium did was create a virtual hospital. Now, I'm familiar with virtual appointments with a doctor, but a whole hospital operating that way? How's that work?

Mecia: Well, this is a little bit different. Yes. I mean, we're all now becoming used to telemedicine and going on to Zoom with our health care provider. This is a little bit different in the sense that what Atrium did in this attempt to try to clear out bed space for the anticipated surge of coronavirus patients, is it said, "Look, if we have COVID-19-positive patients, we don't necessarily need all of them in the hospital. We can have some of these people recuperating at home. We can check their blood pressure with a device. We can get their oxygen level in their blood with one of those little things that clips onto your finger." They can do check-ins where they have their mobile units go and physically check on you in your house. So this was a way that Atrium devised of getting patients out of the hospital to clear up bed space for the absolute sickest patients and let people recuperate at home where many people would prefer to be anyway.

And actually, interestingly, Marshall, you know, this is not going to go away when the pandemic goes away. They see this maybe as a future technique that could be used for other types of illnesses beyond COVID-19

Terry: All right, Tony, thanks.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.