As Vermont continues to open slowly now that the coronavirus is weakening, local leaders say the shutdown has created unprecedented challenges for small business.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Tom Torti, director of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, has been in touch with more than 900 of his organization’s 1,500 member businesses to find out how they are responding to the closing of nonessential businesses in Vermont.
“It is really dependent on the sector that they represent,” Torti told True North. “Some of the types of businesses that you would expect are feeling an immediate and dramatic impact. The impact has resulted in significant layoffs of both full and part-time employees.”
Torti said the uncertainty inherent in Gov. Phil Scott’s orders intended to slow the spread of the virus creates big challenges for businesses.
“Not knowing when they will be able to resume operations takes both a financial and personal toll,” he said. “The seasonal industry, which depends on the tourist season, is nervous as they are unclear when restrictions will lift. This affects camps, seasonal resorts, etc.”
While some sectors, such as the financial sector, aren’t hit as hard in the short term, Torti says long delays in resuming regular operations will hurt everyone.
“The finance sector is less immediately affected, but unstable national and global markets over a longer-term — beyond Q-4 for instance — will begin to show its effects.”
Still, Torti offered praise for the guidance coming from the state government.
“We are hearing a lot of positive comments about the quality of information that is being put forward by our state and local leadership,” he said. “For instance, the PPP and other aspects of CARES programs has been made accessible to small businesses, and once the grants and loans start flowing that will help with stability.”
State Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, is also the owner Dick Mazza’s General Store in Colchester, which has been around since 1954. He said operating as a curbside service store has been a big change for how things are done.
“I’m trying to maintain our help but yet we are not doing anywhere near the volume that we should be doing,” he said. ” … We are prepared to wait for good news and see what happens. If this is something that is going to be a long period of time we’ll have to evaluate what we are doing, but at this point, I think we are just doing the best we can.”
Newly revised models for coronavirus deaths are down substantially from the original projections, and cold and flu season is reaching a conclusion as spring moves along.
Mazza said his constituents have been very patient with the governor’s orders, in part because everyone seems to be in the same boat.
“I think everyone is just trying to play their role,” he said. “I talk to other grocers, I’m also in the state Senate, and I’m on communications every day, and I’ve also been joining in listening to the press conferences that the governor is having. I think by far every business is affected, it isn’t just grocery stores.
“There’s a lot of mom-and-pops — whether it’s hairdressers or whether it’s operators of small businesses, they are all being affected. But you know one thing is nobody is separated, we’re all just trying to get through this together and we just take every day one day at a time and just see how long we can go.”
Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop says local businesses need support.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health crisis that is profoundly impacting Vermont’s communities and businesses,” she told True North. “It is incredibly important for each of us to support our businesses during these challenging times.”
The Vermont Chamber advocates for financial assistance and regulatory relief for businesses at the state and federal level. Bishop says extending deadlines has been one key aspect of relief for companies.
“We are pleased that the state personal income tax filing, Vermont Homestead Declaration and Property Tax Credit Claims, corporate income tax, and fiduciary income tax have all been extended to July 15, 2020, without penalty or interest,” she said.
“We also pushed to pass legislation that protects employers forced to lay off workers as a result of the crisis from having their unemployment insurance experience ratings negatively impacted, which has been enacted into law.”