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When states reopen, here's what surviving small businesses have to plan for

Financial uncertainty now and societal uncertainty in the future is putting small businesses in jeopardy

ST. LOUIS — They're what make our neighborhoods and towns unique.

But the small business owners who've tried to adjust to this stay-at-home world have difficult decisions to make.

The Dubliner restaurant in Maplewood announced on Facebook it's closing its doors for good.

Dubliner investor Andy Crossett said after years in downtown St. Louis, the restaurant reopened in Maplewood a year ago. It was still getting its footing, and COVID-19 knocked its feet right out from under it.

Crossett said the carry-out-only model couldn’t produce enough volume of orders for the restaurant to survive. And the uncertainty of how long that would last made it impossible to wait.

"Many small businesses exist without much cash in play,” Washington University business professor Peter Boumgarden said.

That means they don't have much wiggle room when there's a sudden drop in revenue that's going to last for an unknown amount of time.

Even the businesses that received buffer money from the Paycheck Protection Program are questioning the future, Boumgarden said.

"There's a little uncertainty about how back-to-normal they will be 8 weeks after their loan runs out and are trying to figure out what to do with the money if they received it,” he said.

Boumgarden says there are a couple of factors owners have to consider when businesses are allowed to reopen. The first is how much money customers will be willing to spend.

"With unemployment kicking up a bit and just general uncertainty, I can anticipate just some level of lower confidence on the part of the consumer,” Boumgarden said.

The second is a possible change in social norms with social distancing. He likens it to airport security procedures post-9/11.

"You think about your favorite restaurant where you're jam-packed to someone next to you. There's going to be some questions about regulations for those industries or…just what some people feel comfortable with for a period of time,” he said.

In the meantime, we can help our favorite shop or restaurant figure out the future by supporting it now.

"When you buy food from them, you're investing in the life of that restaurant,” said John Perkins, owner of Juniper in the Central West End.  “Saying this is a restaurant that's important to this community and we want to ensure its longevity."

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