Imagine Berkeley without Chez Panisse, Top Dog, or Rick and Ann’s, but rather a Starbucks and Target at every corner. Small businesses are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19; a recent study found that around eight hundred US small businesses are shutting down every day. Corso, an Italian restaurant in Berkeley, is just one out of over one hundred thousand small businesses nationally that have closed permanently due to the pandemic since March.
Small local businesses should be allowed to stay open during shelter-in-place orders — because it may be necessary for their survival. While giant corporations like Starbucks and Target can manage and maybe even profit, weaker businesses don’t have the resources to endure the financial stress created by the pandemic. Economists estimate that at least 2 percent of small businesses are already gone, and according to a US Census Bureau survey, almost 79 percent of small businesses have felt moderate to severe negative effects from the pandemic. But why is it so important that small businesses remain?
While giant corporations like Starbucks and Target can manage and maybe even profit, weaker businesses don’t have the resources to endure the financial stress created by the pandemic.
For the 47.1 percent of US workers who are employed by small businesses, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening their livelihood. Despite Congress approving over $700 billion to be directed towards small businesses, companies have been forced to lay off many workers to stay afloat. In November, the number of long-term unemployed Americans increased by 385,000 to 3,900,000, and claims for unemployment benefits were at 787,000 the week of Dec. 26. The closure of small businesses is obviously negatively affecting their employees and a substantial fraction of workers are employed by small businesses. This results in a huge amount of people who are now left struggling to make ends meet.
Moreover, this situation is disproportionately harming minority-owned businesses. According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, nearly half of Black businesses had been wiped out by the end of April, and they were more than twice as likely to close as white businesses. As the pandemic continues, the racial inequality gap widens.
Additionally, as small businesses close, cities are stripped of their character. Rick and Ann’s, an iconic Berkeley institution that was founded in 1989 is currently on “precarious financial ground” according to the owner, Ann Lauer, and is being forced to cut salaries and plead for business on a GoFundMe page. Luckily, Lauer is continuing to fight to stay open for her staff and loyal following. If our dearest restaurants close, all we’ll have left is big chains and Amazon. We need to prevent the homogenization of America.
Some may say that reopening small businesses is unsafe and irresponsible, but this can be prevented if adequate measures are taken to protect citizens from the coronavirus and build a secure and safe environment.
COVID-19 has been brutal for small businesses. Temporary shutdowns are becoming permanent. How much longer can these small businesses manage given the restrictions? How long can they continue to operate at a loss before they go under? Small businesses should be allowed to stay open because they are important to their employees and to the community. Otherwise, when the pandemic is over, they may not be around.