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Local businesses that have not already shuttered say they still have bills piling up and employees to pay in spite of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recent restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Edwards issued a “Stay at Home” order on Sunday, ordering non-essential businesses such as personal grooming businesses or businesses offering public amusement to close.

Some businesses belonging to industries deemed to be essential services like health care, utilities or public safety are continuing to operate with few setbacks. Many other businesses, though, told The Ouachita Citizen in recent days that the state’s restrictions have been devastating.

The state’s restrictions are expected to remain in place until mid-April.

Edwards and others say the state’s restrictions on the business community will help slow the spread of COVID-19 as hospitals across the state begin treating an influx of COVID-19 patients.

In Monroe, Bayou Bowl, a bowling alley and family entertainment venue on U.S. Hwy 165, was forced to close its doors to the public last week after Edwards ordered gyms, movie theaters, bars and casinos to close because of the large groups of people who would gather there.

Up to 30 employees lost their jobs at the bowling alley because of the closure, according to Bayou Bowl general manager David Campbell.

“The impact is that all our 30 employees that we had had been laid off immediately because we had no revenue coming in to pay them,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he hoped Bayou Bowl could reopen if the state’s restrictions were lifted on April 13.

“We will. I believe we will,” Campbell said. “We will do everything we can to open the business back up because people enjoy coming here.”

A&H Games, a hobby and family game shop near Piccadilly Cafeteria in Monroe, has only been open for some six months but is now temporarily closing up shop.

“We’ve had to close our doors for the time being and furlough all workers,” Stetson Bosecker, owner and manager at A&H Games. “Our business model is based on the opposite of social distancing. In a normal week, we encourage people to bring their friends and family to A&H Games to play various card games, board games and tabletop games.”

According to Bosecker, the state’s restrictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak were devastating for a small business, especially a newly launched one.

“We are doing our best to keep the doors open during this time, but we only just opened in September,” Bosecker said. “A situation like this is hard enough on any small business, and for a business like ours which is still trying to form a customer base, this is devastating.”

In light of the state’s restrictions, West Monroe businesses such as Eleven 26 Boutique and Infinity Comics also reported losses.

According to Wayne Harris, partner and manager at Infinity Comics & Collectibles, he orders new comic books prior to their release date so his customers can buy new comic books each Wednesday.

“Yeah, it’s not good. Not good at all,” Harris said. “I give brand new comics every Wednesday, and I order this stuff two months in advance.”

His business may have slowed but his bills did not, Harris said.

“The funny thing is, next Wednesday is the first of the month and the rent is due,” Harris said. “Things just don’t stop. Life doesn’t stop.”

“This shutdown is definitely going to hurt business,” Harris added.

Jessica Pollard, owner of Eleven 26 Boutique, explained her business was stocked and prepared to sell clothing items for school formals. That inventory no longer has value because of the closure of schools, she said.

“That’s thousands of dollars you lose because of what’s going on,” Pollard said.

Pollard said her store relied heavily on walk-in traffic. If the state required people to stay home, the state was encouraging damage to small businesses, according to Pollard.

“This is about not being able to open our doors,” Pollard said. “We can do as much as we can through social media as we can but people staying home hurts all of our businesses.”

Pollard expected her store’s finances could withstand a temporary closure until April 13, but was not certain she could keep the doors open if the restrictions were extended to a later date.

“I don’t know. That’s the big scary question that’s up in the air,” Pollard said. “By April 13? Yes, we can hang on. But until September? no. Most likely no small business can hang on that long.”

Pollard explained that her store does offer services through social media, but knows closing the doors is going to hurt her business.

“This is going to take a huge hit on every small business,” Pollard said. “It’s very scary for everybody.”

Meanwhile, some businesses like Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop are allowed to continue operating because Edwards’ “Safer at Home” order classified Simmons as an essential service. Firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers are classified as an essential business for public safety under Edwards’ order.

“Business is up,” said Hunter Simmons, chief operations officer at Simmons Sporting Goods in Bastrop.

Simmons said sales would normally dip at this time of year since there was no open hunting season. Simmons attributed the spike in firearm sales to public uncertainty about what restrictions the government might enforce in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have had a spike in sales and online sales and people stocking up,” Simmons said.

He explained it was common for ammunition sales to rise because citizens witnessed dry spells for production of ammunition during national emergencies and the changing of presidential administrations.

“Anytime there is any kind of crisis, national emergency or any kind of federal law mandating like that, people want to come and get their ammunition,” Simmons said. “They have seen the ammo dry up. These big ammo companies can only produce so much, so it may dry up for a year or two.”

Simmons said he has had to cut down on employees for the store’s restaurant, The Duck Blind. The restaurant was forced to close because of the state’s restrictions.

“We have cut back on employees because we are just doing carryout,” Simmons said.

Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this news report.

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