As Texas and the nation remain locked down in response to the Chinese coronavirus, local business owners shared with Texas Scorecard their struggles and advice on how to support local businesses: increase communication and avoid ordering through third-party online delivery services.

Since mid-March, Texans have been besieged both by fear of the Chinese coronavirus and by “stay-at-home” orders enacted across the state, limiting their activities and business. As reports of skyrocketing unemployment rates swarm, Texas Scorecard reached out to a number of local business owners to better understand how they’re being affected.

These are their stories.

“[The shutdown] affects a lot because people don’t know that I’m open, so I’m down like 60 percent,” said Val, owner of World Blend, a coffee and shipping shop in north Fort Worth.

Val added that he had to let his entire staff go and is working 14-hour days by himself. “This is a top problem for the community.”

Jay of the nearby restaurant Pizza Buzz, which is offering carryout and delivery, concurred.

“People are still afraid of [ordering food],” Jay told us. “People are being more cautious of eating out and stuff.”

“I’m guessing we’ve seen like a 75 percent decrease in the amount of sales that we’ve had,” said Jordan of Coco Shrimp—an eatery with a food truck and restaurant location. “But I think we’re doing a lot better than most other businesses. It’s just figuring how to do curbside pick-up at a restaurant, and delivery is something we’ve been trying to get around.”

It’s not just restaurants being affected. Brennan Enos, manager of Sci Fi Factory—a collectible, comic, game, and toy store in Keller—shared how the coronavirus shutdown is impacting his business:

“Pretty catastrophically. We can’t be open,” he said. “We don’t really have much in the way of any income.”

“Now the only thing I can really do is: people can come by and pick up things that they have pre-purchased because I still have the deliveries coming in. But other than that, we just don’t really have much in the way of opportunity. And, of course, our landlords are still insisting on their rent. So, it’s pretty devastating.”

Brennan also expressed confusion about if the recently approved coronavirus stimulus package will help him much at all:

“We’ve been getting some kind of mixed messages. On one hand, we’ve been told there’s a completely forgivable loan we can get—but to be forgiven, it has to only be used for payroll. And that’s great because it helps my guys, and I want to do that because they need to eat. But as a store, it doesn’t really help us any. What we’re trying to find out … and we’ve reached out to our bank, and they’re still working the details out, but we’re kind of hoping there’s going to be something in there where there might be a forgivable loan to pay rent.”

Brennan’s business is also affected by the shutdown’s impact on the national comic book industry, with news that Diamond Comic Distributors—the only company in the nation responsible for shipping comics from vendors to comic book stores—has suspended shipments nationwide and is withholding payments to vendors. There are also concerns that Diamond may not return, leaving comic book stores in a lurch.

“What’s really going to hurt is more and more people are going to go digital for comics,” Brennan commented. “So, there’s going to be a lot less of the paper comics from this point on.”

Meanwhile, in southeast Texas, Kittie Rice—the owner of two NAPA auto parts stores in Beaumont and Nederland—is also facing a dilemma.

“In the last two weeks, [business has] dropped significantly,” Rice said:

“So far, we have tried not to cut anybody’s hours or make them take time off or anything. We have less than 50 employees, so quite honestly, the mandate that the government gave does not pertain to us. However, we have long-term employees, so we have always said that if we have to, we would do whatever we needed to take care of our employees.”

When asked how long her business can go on under current circumstances, Rice wasn’t sure.

“As long as God allows us. I don’t know,” she said.

Real estate seems to be the one area yet to be hit hard, according to one North Texas realtor.

“It is affecting my business—things like clients getting laid off and the threat of banks freezing mortgages,” said Johanna McDaniel. “As my actual business is continuing, nothing has changed yet.”

“The real serious buyers are still buying,” she added. “It’s too soon to know. I feel like in a couple of months, we’re going to see the real impact of everything right now.”

“The one that I am concerned about is late summer. I had a medical professional text me this weekend and say that she’s concerned about [the shutdown being extended into] late summer. And now there’s talk about school—they’re keeping an eye on it—but they’re counting on not being able to reopen even in the fall.”

Each of these business owners has advice for people wanting to help their local businesses.

For those taking advantage of food delivery to support small businesses, one owner asks that you reconsider ordering through third-party delivery services and instead order directly through the restaurant itself.

“Consumers aren’t aware of what these third-party companies are actually doing to the businesses, where they’re taking 30 percent of the profit,” Jay of Pizza Buzz said.

“We don’t do anything through any third-party service, only because they take a pretty big cut,” Jordan of Coco Shrimp agreed. “We tried one of those services before, and we were burned pretty bad. It was just a bad experience.”

“Place an order through the individual—the business—not … through the third-party companies,” Jay asked of consumers.

Conversely, Texas Scorecard has learned of Texans who find themselves unemployed and have begun driving for third-party delivery services in order to make ends meet during the economic shutdown.

Brennan asks consumers to communicate. “Reach out to us, be it through Facebook, email, anything like that.”

McDaniel concurred, adding that realtors need to hear from you if you were looking for a home, but the coronavirus has slowed you down.

“Let communication be really strong, so that way everybody knows. ‘Hey, we want to wait until June, we want to wait until July, instead of today.’ That way, the realtors that are out there aren’t suffering from lack of communication or fear.”

“Whenever this is all over,” Rice said, “I really hope that people pay close to attention to visiting their local businesses.”

This article has been updated since publication. 

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.