SUBSCRIBE NOW

MOT small businesses have adapted to contact restrictions

Amanda Parrish * Delaware
aparrish@doverpost.com
Middletown Transcript

It’s been one month since Gov. John Carney ordered nonessential businesses to close, limited dine-in services of restaurants and required them to comply with social distancing. Middletown-area small businesses have had different strategies to adapt for customers, helping others in the process.

As an essential business, owner of Fred Drake Auto in Townsend Kiel Drake hasn't had to close up shop, but he has had to change a lot of practices to limit contact with customers.

“Everybody has had to do things a little bit differently, but we kind of just expanded on some of the things we are already doing,” he said.

Drake said they are having customers to drop vehicles off outside business hours, handling all appointments through email and over the phone and picking up and dropping off cars from people’s homes.

Drop-off and pick-up of vehicles is not something they did before, except for special circumstances, but they wanted to be helpful during this time of uncertainty.

“It’s something we have always floated implementing, but this is something we jumped on with people being scared to leave their homes,” he said.

Drake said it has been challenging because he has built his on trust with customers, which is harder to do over the phone.

“Not being able to see your customers face-to face is definitely different,” he said.

The shop has been nearly as busy as it was before Carney issued the stay-at-home order March 24, Drake said, because they service a lot of vehicles owned by businesses, healthcare and law enforcement.

“Business has been a bit lower, but other businesses have kept us busier during this time. It has been okay,” Drake said.

Pizza with a twist

Rob Dawes, owner of Luna’s Pizzeria and Italian Grill in Middletown, said his restaurant was primarily dine-in. They had to shift to more take-out orders, which included selling pizza kits as part of a social media “pizza challenge.”

He said he was stunned by the community response to the challenge, selling more than 1,000 kits in less than a month. Dawes said the community has rallied around small businesses to make sure they stay afloat during this difficult time.

“The community support has blown us away,” the pizzeria owner said.

Dawn Schatz, co-owner of Volunteer Brewing Company, said they made the decision to completely close completely after Carney ordered restaurants and breweries to close dine-in services, even though they were allowed to serve take-out brew.

"We didn't want to encourage people to come out and stand in large, long lines," she said.

In the near future, Schatz said they will begin online-only ordering for crowlers. They will open for specific periods of time for pick-up to minimize the number of people coming to the brewery.

Financial challenges

Schatz said they don't have any full-time employees who rely on their income from the brewery, but they applied for the Hospitality Emergency Loan from Delaware's Division of Small Business to help with expenses. She said she applied a few days after the state expanded the loan for coronavirus relief March 26, but as of April 22, she had not heard back.

Many other Middletown-area business owners have said in Facebook posts they haven’t received the loans they have applied for from the state or the federal government’s $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program.

The PPP offers forgivable loans to small businesses, but ran out of money April 16, according to news reports. As of April 20, Democrats and Republicans were negotiating a deal that would put $310 billion more into it.

While the federal government tries to get more money into the pockets of small businesses, ones like Empire Wine & Spirits and Luna’s have helped each other out with promotions, social media challenges and initiatives to boost revenue.

Rishi Sharma, owner of Empire Wine & Spirits, said his business is collecting gift cards and making face masks to give to hospital staffers and first responders. Luna’s donated a gift card to them.

Sharma, whose liquor store gave a $50 gift card prize for the pizza challenge, said small business owners helping other small business owners is how they all get through this difficult time.

“Because that’s how society works,” he said. “I understand as an individual that as a business, we can do more than only as an individual.”

While Volunteer Brewing chose to halt in-person services for now, Schatz said some Middletown restaurants have bought crowlers of their brew to sell with their take-out orders.

When they choose to resume take-out orders, Schatz said they will start selling Middletown Strong Ale, in which 100% of sales will be donated to other Middletown downtown businesses.

"They are helping us, and we are helping them," she said.