COVID-19 takes toll on local businesses

Signs like this one have popped up throughout the Tri-County area. 

A stroll down the main streets of Alpine will reveal the toll COVID-19 is taking on local businesses. Storefronts and restaurants alike have posted closed signs, others request that their customers respect social distancing when entering, and still others will only serve customers in a take-out capacity. Business owners expressed both their concern over the virus and the impending damage upon the economy.

Perhaps most notably, Blue Water Natural Foods Company closed its doors on March 16. Owners John and Elaine Schwerdtfeger said their decision to close was not made lightly. For weeks, they watched the news, unsure if the upheaval experienced in China both medically and economically would soon take its toll on the U.S. as well.

“We agonized over it every day from the 26th of January,” they explained. “Our hearts were tormented at the thought of closing Blue Water, what it would do to our employees and customers, and all the time, blood, sweat, tears, and life we put into Blue Water for the last 12 years.”

Before making the decision to close their doors, the Schwerdtfegers put all slow-moving products on sale, only re-ordered fast-moving items, and encouraged their customers to order cases of desired goods at a 10% discount. They hoped to inspire their customers to stock up for the days ahead.

When the rush on goods became a reality even in Alpine, they saw it as a sign to close. They couldn’t stock essentials like milk, certain egg products, and frozen vegetables. Marking their items at 25-40% off, they cleared the shelves in the final two days of business, and provided their employees with 40 hours’ severance pay and $1,000 worth of food.

Although devastated over the decision, John said, “I’m glad that I was able to take care of the employees as much as I did and hopefully allowed them to be safe through this pandemic. Of course, I wish I could have done more.”

The Schwerdtfegers aren’t the only business owners in town unsure of what the future holds. Gary Dunshee at Big Bend Saddlery fears a long recovery period after this virus takes its toll on the economy. The saddlery itself is in a unique position because it already functions largely on mail orders. This means the majority of Dunshee’s customers can comply with social distancing and continue to receive desired goods. But customers have already started canceling orders, and the online order rate has dropped from five to 15 per day down to one or none.

Johnny Carpenter of Carpenter Real Estate foresees a market slowdown due to fear over COVID-19 and tanking oil prices. Eric Faust, owner of Triangle Gas Station and Convenience Store, also remarked on collapsing oil prices. Although his business has remained steady so far, he’s planning for possible shortages.

Most restaurants in the area are offering takeout service, and many businesses are encouraging online purchases and gift cards for future use to keep the local economy moving and ensure that they can continue to serve the community.

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