Kirkwood businesses power through pandemic
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By Patrick Saunders, contributor
Atlanta, GA — Businesses throughout Kirkwood have applied for federal loans, offered virtual services and instituted a slew of safety precautions to make it through the coronavirus pandemic.
Amy Robbins closed down her counseling office on Hosea Williams Drive in mid-March both for business and personal reasons related to the pandemic — her husband tested positive for coronavirus.
“I immediately moved all of my clients to virtual therapy sessions,” she said. “We got real from the get-go.”
Seven months later, she still meets most of her clients virtually. But some request in-office appointments, triggering a host of safety precautions.
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“Clients stay in their car until I open the door to welcome them in, I then give them hand sanitizer and they go into my office,” she said. “I have a higher-end air purifier with virus protection in my office now. Once the client leaves, I spray down the room, couch and chair.”
Robbins’ in-office clients welcomed the safety precautions, and the others “really love” the virtual experience.
A Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration helped Robbins pay rent when business was affected at the beginning of the outbreak. But overall, she says the pandemic has had minimal impact on her bottom line.
And the whole experience has changed how Robbins will run her business in the future.
“I think moving forward I will do half of my time in my office and half of my time doing virtual counseling,” she said. “I think it has opened the eyes to many to a new normal and a new experience that we would have not seen otherwise.”
Indigo Wellness spa on Hosea Williams Drive shut down in mid-March and opened back up June 1 with new precautions in place for such up-close-and-personal services.
“We implemented having clients sign waivers, taking their temps upon entry, having them wash their hands and both clients and staff wears masks at all times,” owner Paris Campeau said. “We also have a continuous cleaning protocol with specially formulated cleaning agents.”
But the pandemic has caused a major revenue hit, with sales down about 75 percent. An Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the SBA has helped keep Indigo Wellness’s doors open.
The spa’s staff is down to five of its usual 15-person team, but Campeau said that’s by the employees’ choice.
“I didn’t permanently lay off any employees and everyone was welcome to come back to work when we open, but many chose not to,” she said. “We would gladly welcome them back if they were ready to return.”
The future for Indigo Wellness — like so many other businesses these days — is uncertain. The pandemic hit right as the spa’s busy season was supposed to begin. The fall and winter are slower for business, and Campeau’s feeling the impact.
“I am hoping that our memberships and the loan money can stretch through the spring, as well as the support from my community to keep our doors open,” she said. “Honestly, moving forward I have no idea what it is going to look like over the next six months.”
Restaurants are among the hardest-hit businesses by the pandemic, and eateries in Kirkwood have not escaped that fact.
Both Le Petite Marche and Elmyriachi have yet to open their dining rooms since March, opting for to-go orders only out of an abundance of caution.
Le Petite Marche shut down in early March, reopened six weeks later but shut down again for another two weeks after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.
No more than six guests are allowed inside the restaurant to place or pick up orders and facemasks are provided and required.
“Thankfully, we’ve received no push-back,” owner Marchet Sparks said. “We want to provide a safe environment for the collective health of our staff and guests.”
They’ve lost a big chunk of business due to going to-go only.
“Even with significant losses, I cannot in good faith re-open my dining room and increase exposure to this virus,” Sparks said.
A small SBA loan helped Le Petite Marche cover payroll, and all but one staff member has been retained.
“I’m uncertain but hopeful as we push through the pandemic long-haul,” Sparks said.
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Elmyriachi switched to to-go orders only in March, but have started allowing people to eat those orders on the Mexican restaurant’s patio.
Food and drinks are delivered through a to-go window, they offer plastic utensils only, pens are sanitized in-between each customer’s use, all employees in service areas wear masks and gloves at all times and employees are screened before each shift to see if they’re exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.
“We also have a dedicated customer bathroom that employees are not allowed to use, and dedicated cleaning employees who sanitize the bathroom in-between uses,” chef and co-owner Jeff Dilbeck said.
They have not had to lay any employees off, but some opted not to return for their own safety. And the pandemic has affected the restaurant financially.
“But we have a responsibility to the community, and in our opinion, it is better to do the right thing than to just be out there grabbing money without a conscience,” Dilbeck said. “We’ll reopen completely when we truly feel comfortable to do so. We are not there at this time, and we will be able to survive this.”
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