From stores to Chinatown restaurants, here's how the coronavirus is affecting small business owners in the US

People wear medical masks as a precaution against coronavirus, walking around the in the streets of New York, United States on January 30, 2020.
Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Brandy Brown, the owner of a family-owned children's store called Rock-a-Bye Baby in Virginia Beach, Va., noticed the effects of coronavirus on her business starting in January.

Shipments that usually arrived by then were coming in later than usual. Recently, it has gotten worse. Representatives from brands she sells in the store have explained that the coronavirus outbreak, also known as COVID-19, in China have halted production of clothing. Factories were shut down without an opening date, and travel restrictions prevented brands from visiting the factories. Workers who traveled during Lunar New Year have been unable to return to work.

"It's a lot of groundwork that we're figuring out and a lot of things we're learning," said Brown. 

Brown has been stuck dealing with the tedious process of filling up missing inventory at Rock-a-Bye Baby. She has resorted to finding brands online with inventory ready to ship and must confirm the brands do not rely on suppliers directly from China. 

"It's harder than we imagined," said Brown.

Large companies and retailers like Apple and Nike have made headlines during the coronavirus outbreak, as investors anxiously await news on whether the virus will impact the companies' abilities to make sales.

But because of the many impacts of the virus, small business owners are struggling, too. Although official reports showing the impact on small businesses have yet to be released, news reports across the country illustrate the struggles

Even those who are not being affected by Chinese suppliers still feel the impact: a fear of crowded spaces and a distrust of products and people of Asian descent are taking a toll on Chinatowns across the United States

Bo Ky, a pho restaurant located in New York City's Chinatown, used to welcome an average of 120 customers daily, but since the coronavirus outbreak, the number of visitors dwindled down to 30 to 40.

Chivy Ngo, general manager of Bo Ky, claims the restaurant has lost about 60% of revenue and cannot produce all the items on the menu due to a lack of staff on site. Now that New York has confirmed cases of coronavirus, "of course it makes people more concerned about going out," said Ngo.

Wellington Chen, executive director of Chinatown Partnership, a nonprofit that works to preserve and promote Chinatown, said the effect the coronavirus has had on business is far greater than any damage caused by SARS.

"The idea of social distancing is really taking hold," said Chen. He claims some shops have lost about 40% of revenue, while others have lost up to 70%. The situation for business owners is Chinatown is so dire that some are unable to pay rent this month, according to a property manager that spoke with Chen. 

In response to the desperate situation, New York Congresswomen Grace Meng and Nydia Velázquez, and Rep. Judy Chu from California introduced a bill this week to help small business owners across the country suffering economic damage due to the coronavirus. The bill, called "Small Business Relief from Communicable Disease Induced Economic Hardship Act," would allow owners to access Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to cover business expenses.

"Many of our Asian-owned businesses in New York have already experienced a decline in sales due to misinformation, fear and stigma associated with the virus," said Velázquez, whose congressional district in New York City includes Chinatown, in a press release. 

But for Chen, the real cure for business owners relies on the public. "We really need the public support," said Chen, "and we need the public to step up and resume life." 

No official guidelines have been released for small businesses on how to protect themselves from the virus, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come forward to explain that "being Chinese or Asian-American does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19." 

The CDC has also recommended encouraging sick employees to stay home, and for all employees to practice good hygiene including washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

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