Local business owner opens up about impact of COVID-19

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — At 7th & Elm Bar and Grille, COVID-19 restrictions hit fast and hard back in March.

“When we found out what was happening, I think it was March 16,” owner and GM Kevin Hellmann said, “We had to have a meeting with two of our key people and just redo an entire business plan to make sure we still had some sort of income coming in.”

According to a response report made by West Central Indiana Business Hub’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, 66 percent of responding local businesses have had to lay off employees or reduce hours due to shutdowns, a reality 7th & Elm faced early on in the stay-at-home order aftermath.

“A lot of these people are college kids who rely on this to pay their rent and put food on the table,” Hellmann said, “We also employ a lot of single mothers and parents of children who, this is their sole income, so having to tell them ‘sorry, as of today you’re no longer employed and I can’t pay you’ was, they were not easy conversations and a lot of people left here scared that day.”

Kristin Craig explains the purpose of the WCIBH’s business survey:

The response report published by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce represents six local counties, although a majority of responses came from Vigo County businesses. Chamber President Kristin Craig said the responses showcase what she calls “cautious optimism” from local business owners, which she attributes in part to the disbursement of Paycheck Protection Program loans and the slow reopening of non-essential businesses.

“PPP loans have come out, and we’ve been able to work with employers on ‘okay, you’ve received PPP, how does that affect what you’ve already done in terms of layoffs with your employees, what could you do differently, how could you bring them back?’,” Craig said.

Hellmann says 7th & Elm is following capacity guidelines, but there are still plenty of variables at play as the bar reopens.

Kevin Hellmann explains 7th & Elm’s efforts to safely reopen with new protocol:

“It’s hard to judge how many people are going to show up, how many employees do I need?,” Hellmann said. “Now that I have employees coming back, do I have enough hours and money coming in to make sure that they’re getting a living wage?”

Nearly 20 percent of businesses in the response report said they expect it to take 12-24 months to return to pre-COVID-19 sales and staffing, but more than 50 percent said they aren’t likely to permanently close their doors. Craig said this goes along with the hardworking behavior she’s noticed from locals.

“We are really good at being able to buckle down, cut costs where we have to, be able to kind of scrape by, and so I think you’re gonna see a lot of businesses have that kind of scrappy attitude,” Craig said.

Hellmann pointed to community support as a huge boost in the past couple months, particularly those who came into the bar to buy gift cards early on during the stay-at-home order.

“It helped us, you know, get some money in for that really difficult time,” Hellmann said, “And they have something to look forward to once this is all over.”

Hellmann said he does believe it will all be over eventually; it’s just a matter of when.

“We do see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Hellmann said, “It’s just hard to judge how far away that light is at this point.”

Indiana is currently under Stage 3 of the “Back on Track Indiana” plan through June 13.

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