Drive around the region and the impacts of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) are obvious.
Grocery store parking lots are full — with people lining up before the stores open to get their hands on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other scarce items.
There’s less traffic on the road because many people are working remotely, and that number may climb if ‘stay at home’ mandates are announced.
While grocery stores are slammed, restaurant, gym and nightclub parking lots are empty.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has temporarily shut down bars, nightclubs and gyms, and has ordered dining rooms be closed at restaurants.
Businesses are feeling it.
Some have cut staff, including The Laker/Lutz News, which laid off three employees.
Some businesses have ceased operations, at least for now.
Tampa Premium Outlets had barricades blocking the entrances.
Its website notes that the closure is through March 29, but directs potential shoppers to “stores” and “dining” areas of the website to see if essential retailers, such as pharmacies and food delivery/take-out, are available.
Others are adapting practices to try to preserve business or to respond to changing customer behaviors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walkabout Eatery, a restaurant at 18430 Livingston Ave., in Lutz, is serving its customers with takeout, drive-thru and delivery through Uber Eats. The restaurant also has limited its hours to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and reduced its staff.
In keeping with the governor’s order, Chick-fil-A, at Cypress Creek Town Center, off State Road 56, has closed its dining room and is offering drive-thru only.
Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, which has several locations in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area, is opening at 7 a.m., on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to allow shoppers age 65 and older the chance to shop for an hour before other shoppers are allowed to enter.
Also, Publix stores are closing an hour earlier, to give staff additional time to do preventative sanitation and restock shelves. Pharmacy hours have been changed to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with regular hours on Sunday.
Business owners and employees, meanwhile, grapple with uncertainty.
Amanda Perkins , a hairdresser for 11 years, has had Haven Hair Studio for two years at Porte Noire — A Salon Collective, at The Shops at Wiregrass.
During an interview last week, she said she’d had a number of cancellations — related to COVID-19 because of where the clients recently traveled, or out of a client’s concern about a relative’s compromised immune system.
She was still operating her shop last week, but was getting nervous.
“For me, if it only stayed at six, seven, eight cancellations, that wouldn’t be the end of my world,” Perkins said.
But, she added: “Everybody has all of the same questions: ‘What if this? How do we deal with this?’ It is just nerve-racking.”
On March 22, she decided to temporarily suspend services, according to her Facebook page. She said she will be emailing her clients to inform them how she’ll be handling appointments, both future and missed.
Hope Kennedy, president/CEO of the North Tampa Bay Chamber, said the uncertainty is a widespread concern.
“It’s very hard for the service industry, and we have a very large service industry in Wesley Chapel and in North Tampa Bay,” said Kennedy, who leads a chamber of about 700 members.
The chamber has reached out to its members and has conducted two surveys to get a pulse of what’s happening, Kennedy said.
“I can tell you the trend is definitely there’s going to be a very negative impact on our small businesses in our communities,” Kennedy said.
In fact, one business indicted it won’t be able to make it back, Kennedy said. “We’re three days in and we’re already hearing that.”
As the situation continues to evolve, stress levels are high, said Kennedy, who understands the sentiment.
“I told somebody the other day, I feel like I’m going through a hurricane, the BP Oil Spill and the Recession, all at the exact same time,” Kennedy said.
But, Kennedy pointed out that she has experienced all three of those, as a chamber executive, and her organization is working hard to find out what chamber members need and to help point them toward resources that can help.
“There’s so much out there and it changes so rapidly,” said Kennedy, who currently has her chamber office set up on her dining room table at home.
“We’re updating our website almost hourly for the various links,” she said.
Meanwhile, she’s encouraging everyone to: “Keep calm and shop local.”
The Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce is sharing a similar message.
It’s encouraging its members to “shop local, shop small, shop now.”
The Greater Pasco Chamber announced it would be reaching out to its members who operate restaurants to find out their new hours of operation and whether they operate takeout or delivery, and also to share menu links, when available.
Once that information is collected, the chamber plans to share it.
It, too, is sharing information about potential sources of help.
The Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., a nonprofit economic development agency, also wants to help businesses. It has compiled a list of potential sources of loans and other types of help that are posted on its website, PascoEDC.com.
While local organizations are trying to help businesses seek out sources of help, Gov. DeSantis is urging that economic assistance be provided quickly and simply — to those needing it, in light of COVID-19.
Need some help?
Information on these websites/links may be useful:
North Tampa Bay Chamber: NorthTampaBayChamber.com
Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce: GreaterPasco.com
Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce: ZephyrhillsChamber.org
Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.: PascoEDC.com
Published March 25, 2020