What stands out the most over the last 12 months is how effectively the businesses that make up Carbondale’s hospitality sector adapted to the uncertain and ever-changing environment we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a university town, Carbondale’s hotels, bars, restaurants and event centers are, by their nature, seasonal businesses and are accustom to fluctuations in sales. January, February and the summer months are historically slower times for these businesses, and business owners have learned to adjust to these temporary slowdowns.
Then COVID happened. As the infection rate increased and the government issued its first stay-at-home order in late March, the concern set it. As the infections skyrocketed and the state implemented formal mitigation measures, the concern turned to dread. Customers disappeared, revenues plummeted, and businesses were forced to lay off staff.
Access to emergency funding during those early weeks was uncertain. As the weeks turned to months, that uncertainty became the norm and the question for many turned from “When can we open back up?” to “How can we avoid bankruptcy?"
But nearly all found a way.
Owners rapidly shifted their business models to adapt to the constantly changing environment. Curbside pickup, outdoor seating, and food delivery all became the standard once businesses were stripped of foot traffic. But they weren’t in this alone.
Local banks and other lenders helped address businesses’ need for cash by working with mortgage holders to reduce monthly payments. They also helped by ensuring that a large number of local businesses received emergency Federal financial assistance.
The city of Carbondale understood that at the local level there is no difference between public health and the economy. city officials worked to provide grant assistance, reduce regulatory requirements, respond to requests for assistance, and connect businesses with available resources concerning grant information, mitigation measures and other related issues.
The businesses’ response to this adversity became a source of strength and helped to develop an enhanced sense of community. Many invested their unexpected free time to help address food insecurity that was felt by those who had lost their income, or to make long-delayed improvements to their businesses. Others worked tirelessly to help fellow business owners adapt by sharing what they’ve learned over social media.
There’s little doubt that Carbondale’s business community has been impacted by the adversities of COVID-19. But because of Carbondale business owners’ sheer determination and resourcefulness, combined with assistance from the city, emergency funding from the state and federal government, and partnerships with local financial institutions, your favorite businesses will come back stronger than ever and be here to serve you for a long time to come.
Steven Mitchell is the economic development director for the city of Carbondale.