Local businesses respond and adapt to COVID-19
Evolve or die - it's a reality many area businesses are facing in the midst of a global pandemic.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit North Dakota on March 11, many area businesses have been closed. On March 16 North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum mandated the closure of all "non-essential" businesses and it hasn't been easy - even for the owners of businesses allowed to stay open.
"Just as a businesswoman and seeing other businesses (close) it is difficult," said Melissa Brass, owner of Jamestown's Hand Pick'd Boutique, which has stayed open during the pandemic. "Fortunately I have been put into a position where I am not run by a franchise - I am run by me. I am not a salon, I am not a restaurant, I am not a bar or anything like that and so I can't even imagine what it would have felt like to be mandated to close down."
Those imaginings will cease to be a reality as of May 1. The executive order restrictions are set to expire April 30 and Burgum announced Monday businesses can reopen Friday if trends remain favorable. Businesses that choose to reopen on the scheduled date are to operate under Phase 1 rules in the North Dakota Smart Restart plan.
It is a step toward normalcy but even for businesses that remained open during the executive order the pandemic will likely have long-lasting effects.
"My feelings are that it's kind of the reality of where we are at," said Matthew Woods, general manager, Holiday Inn Express. "We are trying to be smart and safe. I think it is definitely a game-changer, especially for the hospitality industry.
"Our occupancy is what it would be around Christmas time when there's not a lot of people traveling," Woods said. "Normally this time of year we would have a lot of people start moving a little bit and traveling but we don't have a lot of people traveling. Right now there are business people, some construction work going on (but) we are 30% down over last year at this time."
In efforts to combat a decrease in revenue Woods said the brand has cut requirements and standards practiced in the hotels. The brand has given what Woods calls "across the board exemptions" that have lessened costs. Furloughs have also been implemented.
"We are not serving our full breakfast, we serve coffee at the front desk instead of people getting coffee in the public area, we don't service (people's) rooms as much," Grounds said. "Those are just some things we have done to adapt. We are still servicing and taking care of our guests just in a different way."
Hand Pick'd has found ways to serve its guests and clientele in different ways as well.
"We've just been doing more live sales, we've always offered free shipping and we've definitely just put up more Facebook and Instagram posts," Brass said. "More live (sales), more incentive for people to buy online. Our online sales and online traffic has gone up about 40 to 50% since the pandemic hit."
Hand Pick'd' has readjusted hours of operation to better serve customers. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Brass said she has only seen an average of two to three customers in the store at any one time.
"We've had a decrease in sales but I think that was just granted. I truly and absolutely believe that when mandated restrictions are lifted, we will pick up more," Brass said. "We've just been trying to find different avenues to reach customers more online than in-store. I would say a lot of people are fearful about coming in."
Dr. Blake Hochhalter of Hochhalter Chiropractic said fear has not been much of an issue for his practice of nearly four and a half years.
"They're pretty comfortable (coming in)," Hochhalter said of his patients. "We are sanitizing in between patients, we're trying to practice social distancing in the front of the clinic, we are all wearing masks in the clinic and we encourage our patients to do so as well. We're trying to take as many measures as we possibly can to prevent things from spreading through here and screening properly prior to patients even coming in the clinic."
Hochhalter and his associate Dr. Matt Sranck have split and adjusted the clinic hours to try and help reduce any potential spread of the virus.
"Since Dr. Matt is here on Tuesdays we do not see patients on the same day just to reduce the amount of patient flow throughout the clinic to obviously practice social distancing," Hochhalter said. "It helps keep things cleaner, faster and it reduces one of us if one of us is a carrier that we don't know about."
While Hochhalter has opted to trim back the hours he said the clinic is still seeing patients consistently. Hochhalter said due to the steady flow of traffic the clinic is doing well financially.
"We'll end up being quite fine it just helps to practice money management throughout life to prepare for stuff like this," Hochhalter said. "Just being smart financially as an entirety I think helps just prevent bad things from happening to businesses whether you are open for two months, five years or 20 years - this could bring anyone down in between those time frames."
It took a time frame of six weeks to shift the local businesses' finances and schedules. Woods said the last month and a half could be the root cause for a tough summer season even in light of Burgum reopening businesses previously closed.
"I personally feel that the hospitality industry will be one of the last to rebound even when things open up. I doubt that people will still be traveling as much because I think they will be nervous about traveling," Woods said. "I think maybe they won't be able to take vacations and travel as much. It's going to be a tough summer across the board with the hospitality industry in Jamestown even if things - quote, unquote -open up."
The spring has been a time of adaptation, the summer could be a challenge and Hochhalter and Brass agreed it will be a long way back to normal for those that have remained open and those coming off six weeks of being closed.
"It's scary, there's a lot of unknown," Hochhalter said. "We are fortunate to be open because some places aren't and that is sad. I just hope this stuff clears up faster than not and we can get on with our normal lives and help support these businesses throughout Jamestown, in the state and in the country for that matter."
Brass expressed gratitude to the customers in the community and across the country who have made it possible to keep the doors of her business open.
"We are thankful for those in the community and throughout other communities that have bought online and those who have just come into the shop as well," Brass said. "We do thank those community members for supporting us during this time, and all the times, but especially when it counts. We can't wait to see them again at the shop."