Major corporations can weather the storm, but for privately-owned companies like bars and restaurants, survival is not guaranteed.
“In the last week,” says Nelson Braff, owner of Midtown Manhattan steakhouse Hunt & Fish Club NYC, “we’ve had eleven event cancellations for the month of March. There’s an epidemic of coronavirus, but there’s a pandemic of fear. And businesses like ours are paying the price.”
Hunt & Fish Club NYC, a high-end restaurant catering both to New York’s financial industry as well as pre-Broadway show crowds headed to Times Square, is living on the edge, according to Braff.
“On a good day,” he said, “New York makes it incredibly hard for small business. It seems like New York City’s elected officials refuse to consider legislative impact on restaurants, for reasons I will never understand. So restaurants like ours are always up against it.
“But right now, with the virus, this is the kind of crisis that could push many over the edge.”
Braff, of course, is not alone. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the United States, lacking the resources of publicly traded companies, have their hands full as fewer people want to risk being around strangers who might be infected.
“The irony is that most of the media companies that are spreading all this fear about the virus,” Braff notes, “operate within a twenty block radius of my restaurant. Where exactly are those people going to eat when the fear they’re transmitting over the airwaves closes the doors of all the restaurants in Midtown?”
Advice for small businesses regarding the Coronavirus scare
Braff offers these suggestions to small business owners like himself who are hoping to ride out the coronavirus-inspired fears of the public.
“First,” Braff counsels, “treat your business as if it were an independent person, not yourself. What would you do for that person to help them get through a difficult time? Separate the business from yourself. That makes it easier to look objectively at the situation.”
“Second,” Braff says, “you manage people’s expectation of the amount of work hours in the short term.”
“Most business owners, myself included,” Braff says, “cannot pay people to be on the clock without enough work to do. It may require combining responsibilities among the staff. Is it ideal? Of course not. But you do what you have to do.”
“Third,” Braff says, “recognize that some of your best people may need to move on professionally. That may be the hardest part.”
“They’ve got to eat, too,” Braff says. “We don’t want to lose anyone but we have to be prepared for that if this issue lasts for an extended time.”
“Fourth,” Braff says, “remember that every crisis has a beginning, middle, and an end. Everybody thought that the world was ending with SARS, bird flu, Ebola, Legionnaire’s …the list goes on and on. We got through those things, which looked really bad at the time. And we will get through this, too.”
And if all of the above guidance doesn’t seem to be enough, what do you then about the Coronavirus scare? “What can you do?” Braff laughs. “Pray!”