Dickson business owners said they were taking an enormous hit because of coronavirus concerns — and that was before things got a lot worse over the weekend.
They said sales were way down even before the first COVID-19 cases in the county were confirmed — and before Gov. Bill Lee’s order halting all dine-in service at restaurants and bars.
“The impact is huge,” Esther Wood, owner of Zander’s Woodfired Pizza, said last Thursday, estimating that sales last week were off about 75 percent compared to a week earlier.
Wood said at the time that she hadn’t slashed payroll. However, she said food servers were getting hurt because they rely heavily on tips — and the dine-in business had fallen off the most as government officials discouraged public gatherings.
One day after Wood’s comments, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the county. Days later Gov. Bill Lee limited all restaurant food sales to takeout or delivery, and all alcohol sales to takeout.
“I would say things are markedly slower,” said Jeremy Spencer, owner of House Blend coffee shop, who cut hours of operation to save money.
Spencer said last Thursday that part-time workers such as high school students were getting no hours, so that employees who fully support themselves could get all the time on the clock possible.
Michele Vermilyea said the dropoff in business at her Patina V home decor store was “drastic” compared to a week earlier.
“I haven’t had one customer today. Not one,” Vermilyea said last Thursday at about 2:30 p.m. “I think people have been going to the restaurants a bit … but not the boutiques.”
Vermilyea had cut back her store’s hours of operation but wasn’t planning to close.
“I think you’re going to have to be determined to get through it,” she said. “But it can be done.”
Said Vermilyea: “We’re going to hang on as long as we can.”
At Lena Peony, a bridal and prom dress boutique, owners Sydne Harrison and Darlene Morgan said they were worried about losing sales due to prom and wedding cancelations.
They had cut their business’ days of operation from four to two.
“We’ve just got to play it by ear,” Morgan said.
Some businesses advertised phone sales and curbside deliveries so customers wouldn’t have to leave their cars. But such appeals did little to mitigate the damage.
Dickson Mayor Don Weiss issued a statement Thursday that said in part: “The best advice is to avoid being in public as much as possible, but when you do go out keep your distance from each other.”
Weiss’s lengthy statement didn’t address the issue of harm to the business community from COVID-19 concerns.
The Dickson City Council passed an ordinance on Monday night authorizing Weiss to spend up to $400,000 in city reserves for “humanitarian relief.”
Weiss has often touted the city’s “downtown revitalization.” He and the City Council have taken steps to foster a good business climate, and Main Street has been thriving as of late.
Yet, even before the county’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 and before the governor’s order, fears of the contagion were threatening that success.