COVID-19’s Effect on Louisiana Small Businesses

Cameron Minnard

@CameronMinnard

Whether through perseverance or adaptation, small businesses in Louisiana are doing their best to make it through the mandatory shut down period due to COVID-19.

Campus Grounds, a coffee shop on the campus of UL at Lafayette, was one of the first businesses to shut down for the pandemic due to its reliance on the student customers. When the school transitioned to remote learning for the semester, this small shop lost its customer base.

Cory Stewart, local filmmaker and employee at Campus Grounds, said that he is accustomed to saving his money since the shop is normally open for eight months each year to coincide with the college’s spring and fall terms.

“Plus, I am focusing on my long-term pursuits—the career that I want to do, anyway,” said Stewart, referencing the short film scripts he’s been writing in his free time.

Stewart said that he has been taking time to focus on his physical health and finishing film scripts to keep himself busy, while also picking up shifts at the Rêve Coffee Roasters in downtown Lafayette. However, there are certainly some businesses taking a bigger hit, particularly those that can’t operate while staying home.

“How do you keep a business for four months without operating? It’s not possible,” Stewart said. “Or if you had just bought a building and were working on renovations and you had a target time to open up your business, what do you do now?”

One business owner in this predicament is Aaron Smith, owner of CajunGamer that recently opened in February.

“I fought so hard to get open, and then literally I was open for a month and a couple weeks and then had to shut down again,” said Smith.

As an owner of a community-based business and a high-risk individual for the virus, it is a challenge to operate in any capacity with restrictions on human contact and proximity. Unlike Rêve Coffee Roasters that has a drive-thru and offers curbside pick-up, the best Smith can offer is online gift cards.

“I’m in a position that’s better than most businesses because I don’t have employees. If I had employees, closing would be even harder because they depend on you for a paycheck,” said Smith.

Yet, even small businesses that consist of a single individual still have it tough. Mandela Redmond, a barber in New Orleans, applied for both unemployment and the Small Business Loan being offered by the Small Business Administration.

“I have a shop in my backyard, and I do take certain people on special occasions, but I’m not even cutting a tenth of my clientele,” said Redmond.

As a barber, it’s a part of the job for Redmond to be in close contact with customers. If the health restrictions stay in effect for several months, it will be difficult to open the shop back up. Yet, Redmond remained positive.

 “I’m not really concerned because I’ll start up a new business and do something else. I’m an entrepreneur,” said Redmond.

In fact, Redmond said he was already in the process of digitizing and branching out to releasing products and tutorials to teach people what to do after they leave the barbershop. He is also taking time during the pandemic to be more present with his family and neighbors.

“I was able to teach my son how to ride a bike and fly a kite. Me and my wife finished painting the house. I even know my neighbors now,” said Redmond.

Redmond explained that this quarantine is a good reset button for people.

“This is life outside the rat race,” Redmond said.

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