Downtown Winnsboro

THE ONCE BUSTLING streets of downtown Winnsboro are now nearly silent as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its second month. A report published by Main Street America warns 31 percent of Louisiana small businesses are at risk of closing permanently in the next two months as a result of the pandemic. (Sun photo by Monica Huff)

Thirty-one percent of Louisiana small businesses are at risk of closing permanently over the next two months as a result of the effects during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report published by Main Street America.

That figure jumps to nearly 60% over the next five months if the trend continues, according to the report’s data. Furthermore, 58% of Louisianans employed by small businesses may face unemployment. Nationwide, nearly 66% of small businesses face permanent closure in the next five months with more than 72% of employees facing unemployment.

"Who would have ever dreamed we’d be proud to say our streets downtown are practically empty,” said Kay LaFrance-Knight, Winnsboro Main Street manager. “It’s certainly not what we, as Main Street managers, have ever promoted, but in this case, it shows how merchants in downtown Winnsboro are doing their part to be responsible during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a sad sight but one that we know is necessary for the time being. Suffice it to say, we’re all looking forward to the day when we can open our doors and celebrate a grand RE-opening for all our shops downtown."

State leaders admit small businesses are a critical part of the economic success of Louisiana.

"These small business, the owners and employees, are the life blood of Louisiana’s Main Street communities, said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “Small business owners can only cut so much before the losses in revenue start drastically impacting their ability to remain open and serve the people of Louisiana.”

Findings from business respondents in Louisiana Main Street districts to the Main Street America’s Small Business Survey show:

  • 70.9% are locally-owned
  • 46.2% have been in business more than 10 years
  • 81% have suspended storefront operations
  • 62% do not have an online sales component to produce a revenue stream
  • 69.2% report a loss in revenue of more than 50%
  • 61.5% report a loss in revenue of more than 75%
  • 49.6% are concerned with how they will pay this month’s rent/mortgage
  • 30.8% are at risk of closing within three months
  • 59% are at risk of closing within five months

The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses report is based on the first and most extensive survey to date assessing the impact of the pandemic on small businesses, especially those that employ 20 or fewer people. Nearly 6000 small business owners responded to the survey, of whom 91% own businesses with staff of fewer than 20 people. Main Street America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"It’s imperative we call on Congress to address critical voids in the CARES Act to fund those organizations that provide the technical assistance our small businesses will need to get back on their feet once the economy reopens,” Nungesser said. “Programs like the Main Street America and the Louisiana Main Street Network will be needed now more than ever."

 For some Louisiana Main Street Directors and small business owners, the temporary closures will be a financial hardship, while others say they are trying to stay positive through the adversity.

"The City of Denham Springs Main Street is facing devastation,”  said Donna Jennings, City of Denham Springs Main Street Director. “Our two restaurants closed because there wasn’t enough takeout business. They survive on the visitors that shop to stop and eat. We are hoping they will reopen. Some shops are saying they can’t pay their rent and some shop-owners depend on their income to totally support their family. We are trying to steer shoppers to online ordering and curbside delivery. It is not enough sales to sustain the stores. Our Main Street survived the 2016 flood through grit and determination and helped each other gut shops while others cooked meals. The difference is they had hope and could see the end of the tunnel even if they acquired a lot of debt. Being closed down means there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. They have no idea when the virus will slow down enough to reopen. Our village is like a family. We need hope and help."

Houma Main Street restaurants and retail businesses have been exceptionally hit hard. 

"Houma Main Street is at ground zero,” said Anne Picou, Houma Downtown Development District/Houma Main Street Director. “We had 13 restaurants in the Houma District. Today only three are open from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. curbside and one will deliver.  Our retail is all closed. They have signage on their doors that say, ‘If you need something, please call and we will open for your service.’ Traffic is sparse. Our businesses were already hurting due to oil/gas work declining with the price of oil being so low and now COVID-19."

 Other business owners are seeking answers to solutions but finding none.

"It makes me sad to see our community wanting to help but under the circumstances it’s very difficult to or even possible,” said Alicia Broussard, owner of The Vanilla Bean in Crowley. “I am working hard to support my employees and my customers. There are really no concrete solutions or answers and we don’t know when they will come. We are just trying to hang-in there.” 

Some business owners are doubtful about taking on more debt in order to save their business.

"It is definitely a sad time for my small business,” said Chad Monceaux, owner of City Bar in Crowley. “The cash is flowing out to keep the business alive while it is closed. Besides another loan, which I’m uncertain I would be able to pay off, there seems to be no other way to keep the business alive without spending what I’ve saved up for the past four years. It makes me sad knowing so many small businesses are like mine! Praying this all ends soon so we can all start our small businesses from scratch again."

 Danielle Stein, Thibodaux Main Street Director, points out Sara Lindley, owner of Brush a Blowdry Bar in Thibodaux, is focusing her attention on aspects of the business she didn't have time for pre-coronavirus, such as renovations, updating systems, adding services for clients, increasing their social media presence with a variety of content, including video tutorials staying connected with their clients from a business perspective as well as a personal side, and have begun selling products through their social media pages and offering free delivery services.

"We've been working ON the business instead of IN the business," Lindley said.  

The report, released as the federal government races to address the worst financial crisis this nation has seen since the Great Depression, calls on Congress to fund the U.S. Small Business Administration and partner organizations like local Main Street programs and Chambers of Commerce to expand technical assistance to small businesses. These local economic development organizations act as critical connectors and educators for our nation’s smallest employers and can help ensure stimulus dollars reach these businesses. These programs not only play a vital role in stabilizing local economies throughout the crisis but will expedite the recovery process once the pandemic subsides.

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