Virus pushes Mesa businesses to the brink The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Virus pushes Mesa businesses to the brink

Virus pushes Mesa businesses to the brink

By Christopher Boan
Tribune Contributor

Owning a salon went from being a lifelong dream to reality for Mesa’s Laurie DeBusk four years ago.

Now, that dream is turning increasingly into a nightmare for DeBusk, who has seen her salon business plummet in the face of coronavirus fears.

DeBusk, who runs the two-person MOZZIE FOX Salon on North Recker Road near East McKellips Road, fears for the future.

The Mesa native has seen her business fall between 20-and-30 percent from this time last year, leading to the frightful prospect that she may have to close for good in the near future.

“We’re definitely not really getting any more calls for new clients and it definitely has slowed down quite a bit,” she said.

“Like any salon, we have high standards for sanitation and all of that, but we’ve really amped it up quite a bit, and have really limited the number of people to protect our staff and our client,” she continued.

“But it’s definitely been challenging. We’re definitely feeling the crunch right now.”

Mayor John Giles declared a state of emergency last week, closing libraries, museums and the Mesa Arts Center and urging gyms, restaurants and other businesses to follow federal guidelines restricting gatherings of people to no more than 10.

He steered clear of ordering restaurants to provide takeout and delivery service only as the mayors of Arizona’s two other largest cities have done.

He also asked residents to support local restaurants by taking advantage of drive-through, pick-up and delivery options.

Many restaurants voluntarily closed dine-in service and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce began listing some of those providing takeout and delivery at its website,

Other restaurants, like the popular Organ Stop Pizzeria and the Rodizio Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, closed until further notice.

DeBusk is fearful that the worst might be on the horizon unless state and federal politicians take steps to provide assistance.

“It’s scary. When you pour your heart and soul into a business. Even in our plaza here, we’ve all been talking, and it’s probably one of the scariest things as a business owner that you can go through,” DeBusk said.

“It’s not a mistake of your own, it’s not a mistake that we’ve made, and to watch everything that you’ve poured into, when you’re potentially losing your business. Shutting my doors, which is going to be inevitable here shortly. It’s terrifying.”

Both Arizona senators voted for a bill that passed 90-8 after the House agreed to weaken language that would have forced small businesses to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to workers grappling with COVID-19.

The bill, which President Donald Trump had already signed Wednesday evening, would let the Labor secretary exempt businesses with fewer than 50 workers from the paid leave requirement, in the face of a labor shortage.

That was not enough for the leader of a small-business group in Arizona, who has said the financial burden could drive small firms into bankruptcy, and noted that the law does not force the same leave requirements on big businesses.

Approval of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act came less than two weeks after passage of a first COVID-19 emergency bill, which directed $8.3 billion to fund research and support federal and state response efforts, among other elements.

But administration and congressional leaders agreed that those two bills are not enough to offset the virus’ impact on the economy and were already working on economic stimulus packages, ranging from $750 billion to $1 trillion.

The Trump administration is floating a $1 trillion package that would include $300 billion to help small businesses, $200 billion to support “distressed sectors of the economy” – $50 billion of which would be for airlines – and $500 billion for direct $1,000 payments to taxpayers as early as next month.

Senate Democrats are pushing a $750 billion plan directed more toward unemployment and foreclosure relief programs. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it “may not be enough,” but that the “needs are immediate and strong and our package addresses them.”

Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute, said neither proposal addresses the realities workers are facing.

“We think $1,000 is not sufficient to cover the kind of pain people are going to be experiencing,” said McNicholas, who said the payments should be twice that amount.

“You can’t just sort of do this once,” McNicholas said. “We have to have a structure in place such that if the economy doesn’t rebound, additional relief is provided directly to households.”

Mesa business owners voiced anxiety last week over the social-distancing strategies urged by federal and state health officials.

James Stark, co-owner and manager of Mesa Thrift Store downtown since he opened in 1996, said he has weathered previous economic hard times but has never seen anything like the current crisis.

He estimated his store’s business is down 25 percent.

Even though he has instructed his employees to sanitize every nook and cranny of the store, that’s done little to ease the fears of lost customers.

“We just adjusted our hours and cut some things back, but we’re just sanitizing everything all the time,” he said. “The counters, the door handles, whatever public areas we have.

“I have never in my life seen anything like this, but I’d tell people to please come in and support us,” Stark added. “We’ll stick it out as long as we can.”

Others, like Antique Plaza owner Greg Farr, say their current foot traffic has not fallen too severely.

“The customers are still out there doing what they want to do and they’re not going to let anything interfere with it,” Farr said, adding:

“Now this is a bit different and I understand being concerned. I also understand that we haven’t seen the peak of it. But we will rebound from this.”

Farr said his antique store, which opened a quarter-century ago, has seen its share of ups and downs, but added: “We’re open. We’re getting some traffic.

“Our business is very unpredictable,” Farr said. “Some Mondays are crazy busy, some Mondays are mediocre, some Mondays are slow. Today’s slow.

“We have a dedicated customer base. Yesterday was crazy busy. People are being careful, and I don’t blame them, but we have some good customers and they’re always good to us.”

Even stores that have seen surging demand, like downtown’s Lenhard Ace Hardware, have found the going getting tough.

Kyle Lenhart, the latest member of his family to run the hardware store that’s stood on 1st Avenue just west of southbound MacDonald since 1946, has never seen anything like the current economic tsunami.

“Well, the demand wasn’t too bad until I’d say until about Thursday or Friday. We weren’t out of anything except facemasks until about Thursday,” Lenhart said.

“And then Thursday kicked in and we were pretty much out of toilet paper, hand soaps, sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and spray, rubber gloves, pretty much everything else.”

Lenhart has seen the panic buying trends come in waves, starting with facemasks and moving towards common household items.

“The facemasks kind of started probably in February when China was first getting going with the virus,” he said. “We had a lot of people from Tempe and ASU looking to us for facemasks. And that’s when we started pretty much having a low supply of those since about early March.

“We pretty much were in good shape as far as stock went until this past weekend,” Lenhart continued. “So, Friday and Saturday we pretty much blew out of what we had, but people were mainly using us when they couldn’t find it somewhere else.”

Lenhart advised everyone to remain calm and to not rush out and buy everything at once, as they’ll continue restocking their shelves as frequently as possible.

“At the moment, I don’t have a timeframe, but we have things ordered,” Lenhart said. “We keep checking warehouse supplies at least two or three times a day just to see if anything is in stock that we can get rapidly, or within the next day or so, for customers.

“So, we’re keeping an eye on supplies and just trying to get those as quick as we can.”

“We’ve been in business since 1946, one of the oldest hardware stores in Arizona. We haven’t seen anything quite like this,” he added. “We’ve seen a lot of stuff, but nothing quite like this. We’re planning to stay in business for quite a while, so we don’t plan on going anywhere.” γ

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