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Businesses Adapt to the Coronavirus

Updated: Apr 22

by James Clark - Southern Standard newspaper Warren County, TN

We’re born naked into this world in a mess of blood, glop and amniotic fluid. We come crying into this Earth with absolutely nothing to our name, not even a shirt on our back. We die much the same way, taking only our souls into the next realm of existence, whatever that realm may be. In between life and death, we shop at Walmart. Some of the biggest business news of the week comes to us from Bentonville, Ark., headquarters of Walmart, where the nation’s largest retailer said it is now limiting the number of people who can enter its stores. Walmart announced on Friday that stores will begin metering its customers. What that means to you, and me, is we might have to wait in line for the simple pleasure of walking into Walmart. Four months ago, who would’ve thought this would ever happen? The new rules took effect Saturday. There’s now one entrance to Walmart with that entrance being on the grocery side. Shoppers are being directed to line up and stand six feet apart to gain admittance. Once inside, shoppers are reminded to keep that proper social distance of six feet. This is important. The editors of Business Pulse fully endorse proper distancing and believe this is the best way to stem the flow of a deadly virus. According to its official news release, Walmart says it will allow five customers inside its stores per 1,000 square feet of space, which is about 20% of the store’s usual capacity. Once that capacity has been reached, customers will be held outside. As I was standing at the entrance to our Walmart on Friday, I was reminded of one thing. Folks in McMinnville aren’t following stay-at-home orders. Best I can tell, they’re following go-to-Walmart orders. The place was a beehive of activity. If people live at Walmart, I guess they’re staying at home. Otherwise, they’re not following the orders issued Thursday by Gov. Bill Lee. That's just my observation.

Industrial Update Our local Bridgestone plant has extended its shutdown one week. Workers are not expected to return until Monday, April 13 under the current timetable. Yorozu has also been dealing with a shutdown impacting the majority of its workforce. From what I've been told, that shutdown is going to be extended a couple more weeks. The most impactful news for the entire region was delivered on Wednesday when Nissan announced its manufacturing facilities will remain closed for April. That affects some 9,000 workers at Nissan facilities in Smyrna and Decherd. In addition to that direct workforce, thousands of other workers at other companies which supply Nissan with parts are sure to be hurt by this decision. Nissan says it will continue to monitor the situation and make more adjustments as needed.

Bad News for Hobby Lobby Hobby Lobby, after careful consideration, will close all its stores, and furlough nearly all store employees, and a large portion of corporate and distribution employees, effective Friday, April 3. The stores will remain closed until further notice. This is very bad news for crafters throughout the country. Said Hobby Lobby in a poorly worded, run-on statement, “We know our customers relied on us to provide essential products, including materials to make personal protective equipment, such as face masks, educational supplies for the countless parents who are now educating their children from home, and the thousands of small arts and crafts businesses who rely on us for supplies to make their products.” In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve cut the rest of Hobby Lobby’s statement, but it’s for the good of everyone. Should Hobby Lobby weather this storm and one day reopen, perhaps it will hire a PR person that can deliver its reopening statement with more pizzazz.

No Place Like Home Over the past three weeks, I’ve examined many segments of our economy and how they’ve been impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s time to turn my attention to real estate. Folks may be losing jobs and be concerned about reduced work-week hours, but the demand for real estate remains solid. That’s according to Lynne Cole and Donald Hillis, two of Warren County's most esteemed realtors. Donald told me Friday he continues to sell property and spent most of the day showing homes in a wide range of prices. “It’s going to slow down some, but don’t expect a price drop because there’s such a shortage of housing,” said Donald. “The inventory in McMinnville is at an all-time low." Donald continued, "All the realtors I’ve talked to seem to be in agreement and are expecting the same thing. It’s going to slow down some, as can be expected, but when this virus is over it’s going to boom.” Donald said interest rates are a main thing that makes it a seller’s market with 30-year interest rates around 3.25% and 15-year rates around 2.8%, depending on your credit score. Donald said he’s on the verge of starting construction on three to four more homes with prices from $150,000 to $350,000. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the nursery business or manufacturing, it you’re not making it, you sure can’t sell it,” said Donald. “So we’re going to start on several new homes at different price points.” Lynne said she’s seeing much the same thing with the real estate market and has recently showed homes to a number of out-of-town buyers. “Maybe people are pulling out of the stock market and think real estate is the way to go,” said Lynne. “I have closed 15 properties so far this year with 12 in the pipeline. But we all know short term things will be slowing down due to uncertainty with job employment for some buyers. I don’t think it will be a long-lasting dip. We are still offering essential services and can be reached by phone.” Lynne agreed that low interest rates make housing as affordable as ever and said she’s practicing social distancing guidelines when showing property. “I’m a hugger, and this has been really hard for me, but I’m taking the necessary precautions for personal safety and not even giving handshakes,” said Lynne.

Dealerships in Low Gear With questions swirling about global economic health, some folks may be reluctant to buy a car. Couple that with stay-at-home orders which should be obeyed, and it’s not an environment necessarily conducive to car sales. Our two local new car dealerships – Brown Lee Ford and Champion Chevrolet – admit these are not the best of times, but they’re both staying open and are ready to serve the community. If there is one positive about this situation, it’s that people who show up at the dealerships are serious about buying. “There aren’t a lot of people coming out to kick the tires,” said Alex Nafe, owner of Champion Chevrolet on Sparta Street. “If they come out, they want to buy a car. Transportation is something that’s needed, and cars can have mechanical problems now just like any other time. We’re staying open because we’re an essential service. Our service department is open because it’s obviously essential, and our sales department is here too because when car trouble arises, there are some people who want to buy a new car instead of having theirs repaired." Alex said Champion Chevrolet is operating with a much smaller staff and continuing to sell vehicles. Just last weekend he sold an $89,000 Corvette, a 2020 model that’s the eighth generation of the classic American sports car. Alex said the Corvette can reach 194 mph and go from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds. It’s been redesigned with the engine in the middle of the car. Outside of that splashy sale, Alex said the staff is following CDC guidelines and working hard to keep vehicles sanitized. “We’re not expecting a blockbuster month, but we’re here if people need us,” said Alex. “You can complete your entire transaction from our website,, and we’ll deliver the paperwork to your home.” The tone at Brown Lee Ford is much the same with owner Greg Brown saying the few people who have visited his dealership on Manchester Highway are ready to buy. “Our customers are practicing social distancing and we have to flatten the curve,” said Greg. “We have a lot of commitments from people who are ready to buy when COVID-19 is gone, but right now it’s been tough. Our service has been down about 80 percent, and our sales are down probably 25 percent. We hope there is pent-up demand when this is over for sure.” Greg said the dealership, normally with 43 employees, is operating at roughly half their staff. Employees are being rotated so everyone can get some hours. The reduced staff also allows people to work further apart.

Mall is Closed Even mall walkers are feeling the impact of COVID-19 as Three Star Mall announced last week the mall is closed to walkers and only a few stores remain open. Ascend Federal Credit Union continues to operate. Customers to the bank are asked to enter the mall and leave as soon as they’re done with their banking transaction. Shoe Sensation and Hibbett Sports remain open with curbside delivery. Merchandise can be purchased online and then delivered to your car as you wait outside the mall. The curbside service hasn’t been a big hit for Hibbett customers as there hadn’t been an order yet as of midday Friday. Businesses will have to continue to adapt, or close, as the call to stay at home grows louder. Recreational Activities Suffering Due to Pandemic With Americans from all parts of the country being told to avoid social contact, the great outdoors appeared to be an appropriate escape. And why not? Nature trails and scenic views are a way to get off the sofa while still avoiding others. Apparently they are too great a way. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Friday it will close all 56 Tennessee state parks and state-owned state natural areas to the public through April 14. Rock Island State Park manager Damon Graham said prior to the closure the park had been swarming with visitors. "At Rock Island, like many other state parks, we have seen a surge in visitation during the last few weeks," said Graham. "We also have seen large increases in the amount of non-local traffic to the park and surrounding communities including visitors from New York, New Jersey, Canada, Florida and many, many other states. It made it very difficult to follow CDC guidelines and avoid crowding in certain park areas with visitors from all across the country." Entertainment options are gradually vanishing as Tennesseans come to grips with the fact they should stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. K.P.'s McMinnville Lanes has been closed since mid-March and owner Kent Perry says he's not sure when he'll be given the green light to reopen his bowling alley. "This is going to be tough for sure," said Kent. "This is one of our best times of the year, especially with parties at the end of the school year. This is the time we count on to carry us through the summer, which is always a slow time for bowling alleys." Kent has owned the bowling alley for five years and has six to seven employees. They are all unable to work now with the bowling alley shuttered. Kent said he's already tried to obtain a small business loan like the government is touting, but says he's gotten the runaround thus far. Kent says he's been directed by banks to apply on the government website and the website directs him to start the process through his regular bank. He says he hasn't made any progress yet. It's a similar situation at Hot Wheels Skate Center, which has been closed since Sunday, March 15. Business owner Frank Miller says he doesn’t envision his business reopening in April. “We were advised by our accountant to do a mass layoff so we laid off all our employees,” said Miller, who indicated he has six employees in addition to him and his wife. “We’re riding this along and waiting like everybody else and we’ll be there when all this is over.” Miller said he and his wife have not filed for unemployment benefits. He said to his knowledge none of his employees have either. Miller said he's fortunate to have prepared for a situation like this and believes he can weather the shutdown, although it will be at a financial loss. One of the few options still available outside the house is golf. WillowBrook Golf Course in Summitville announced last week it is remaining open with the safety of golfers in mind. The golf shop is closed but golfers are still permitted to play the course, although they are asked not to touch any of the pins. Rakes by bunkers have been removed. Golf carts are sanitized after each use and payments can be made online to avoid any direct person-to-person contact. An online tutorial is even available for anyone not familiar with booking a tee time on the web. McMinnville Country Club is also remaining open. The course is only available to its members, who can continue to order take-out food from the kitchen. The food is charged to their account so there's no paper money changing hands. ReplyForward

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