HANNIBAL | The effects of the coronavirus outbreak have resulted in Hannibal's downtown businesses reacting on a daily basis as new information and recommendations come along, and some business owners and employees made the decision to temporarily close their doors before Mayor James Hark issued a recommendation that all public and social gathering places and dining rooms close effective Monday.
Businesses downtown and throughout America's Hometown have been taking precautions like social distancing, extra sanitization, adjusted hours and limiting gatherings to less than 10 people each day that new recommendations came from county, state and federal government officials and agencies like the CDC. Hark said all essential city functions would continue, including fire and police protection, sewer, parks and street repair and drive-through, curbside and delivery of items like food and medicine.
Mark Twain Dinette is among the businesses offering delivery, drive-in or curbside delivery of meals. But several downtown businesses made the difficult decision to close temporarily, and Hark offered hope of assistance from the Small Business Administration in his announcement made Saturday on YouTube.
The SBA announced Thursday it would offer low-interest federal disaster loans for businesses impacted by COVID-19 in Illinois and neighboring counties, including Marion, Pike and Ralls counties in Missouri. For Finn's Food and Spirits co-owner Jill Otten, that assistance could “give a lot of small business owners peace of mind,” and she stressed how the timing of everything coincided with the peak season.
“Usually, St. Patrick's Day is our turning point,” Otten said, adding that business was “way down” in the days leading up to Friday.
In addition to all of the proper measures and precautions for health, Otten said meals had been by delivery or carryout with the dining room closed to the public. At 4 p.m. Saturday, the staff closed temporarily to help ensure the safety of employees and customers.
At Java Jive, owner Katy Welch launched drinks online Tuesday, and grocery items Wednesday and Thursday, with items like toilet paper, bread and other essentials. She said distributors like Sisco and Kohl Wholesale have taken multiple precautions to ensure safety. The Food and Drug Administration has not found evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through food or food packaging. But Welch said Java Jive receives shipments from all over the country, and a report from the Harvard School of Medicine that COVID-19 could live up to 24 hours on cardboard raised new concerns for Java Jive's supply chain for certain items.
Welch conducted a Facebook meeting with staff members earlier in the week to discuss whether or not they should temporarily close. At first, several employees felt they wanted to remain open. Welch reminded everyone to think about their loved ones and friends as they made their decision, and the majority of the staff decided to close temporarily at 2 p.m. Friday. They will reevaluate the situation April 1.
“We leave the decision with our staff, and we all just kind of decided the bulk majority of us no longer felt safe,” Welch said. “We're taking every precaution that we can here, but none of us can guarantee that is enough, and we just felt like we didn't want to continue to put ourselves at risk or the community at risk.”
In his recommendation, Hark urged area businesses to seek information about the SBA's disaster loan assistance and information for businesses by visiting www.SBA.org or the Hannibal Area Community Chamber of Commerce or the Hannibal Regional Economic Development Council Facebook pages.
“This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but out of love for my community and its people, I felt this was a necessary measure to ensure that we may reduce the impact and exposure to Hannibal citizens,” Hark said. “We fully recognize that there will be economic impacts during these times, but we must look out for the safety and health of families. Based on the science and research data emerging regarding this virus, these steps are necessary to protect our citizens. We cannot put a price on human lives. The more we all adhere to these guidelines, the faster we may return to our everyday lives and routines.”