Locals take action to help one another and urge OC to fight pandemic together
(March 27, 2020) The novel coronavirus and the state-mandated business closures imposed in its wake have left the local business community trapped in a cloud of fear and uncertainty.
“Many owners are truly worried about their employees, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck,” said Susan Jones, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association executive director. “While they are filing bulk unemployment insurance claims, receiving actual funds isn’t as timely as some would like. Additionally, so many small business owners are also worrying about their financial health — many of them do not claim themselves as employees, so there is not unemployment insurance relief for them.”
Jones said local businesses owners are evaluating their financial stability, and some have chosen to close indefinitely until the pandemic abates.
“The fluidity of the situation and the minute-by-minute change has everyone anxious, which is why we’ve seen the panic mode with the grocery stores setting in,” Jones said.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association found that 44 percent of hotel employees in every state are projected to have lost or lose their jobs in coming weeks.
Maryland is projected to lose 13,640 in direct hotel operations jobs and 42,361 hotel-supported jobs.
“Every hotel in the state and in the country has been affected by this,” said Amy Rohrer, president of the Maryland Lodging & Tourism Association. “There are hotels that are choosing to temporarily suspend operations altogether for the time being. Of the hotels that are operating, many of them have laid off 80 to 90 percent or more of their staff, and some of them are even operating at single digit occupancy levels.”
Nevertheless, businesses are adapting to the limitations imposed by the governor, and are attempting to make the best of the situation.
Joe Wilson, Coastal Realtors president, said with the governor’s latest executive order issued on Monday, March 23, all home tours would be conducted virtually via FaceTime or other video call apps.
ACME Markets has also taken measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, such as plexiglass barriers at registers and signs marking areas six-feet apart to encourage social distancing.
Additionally, ACME has implemented special store hours for older, pregnant, sick, disabled and immune-compromised customers — Monday through Friday from 7-9 a.m., and requests customers who do not fall into those categories to shop at a different time.
Furthermore, the store has enacted product purchase limitations for essential goods like toilet paper and cleaning products, Communications and Public Affairs Manager Dana Ward said.
“The safety of our customers and our associates are our top priority,” Ward said. “We are just asking the public to help us help them.”
Resort area business owners are also rallying to help each other and to help the community at large.
Gary James, T&G Builders & Custom Design owner and Shamrock Realty president and broker, is offering his companies’ paid-for ad space to struggling small businesses.
James said he had been about to approve advertisements for his business when he suddenly remembered his time as a small retail business owner.
“Small businesses, we live on cash flow and when cash flow is immediately cut off, it’s a hardship,” James said. “Rather than try to promote more business for myself … we decided to take our ad space in the newspaper and also our TV commercials, and devote them to helping local businesses.”
A local financial adviser, who asked to remain anonymous, will also donate a full page of ads to local restaurants for a month.
“Years ago, many years ago, we had a very difficult time in our family and the Ocean City community really rose up and supported our family,” the business owner said. “At times like this, we really become like family. These are our friends that own these businesses, and I want to support them — they need it … [and] it’s time for all, who can, to give back.”
Heather Marinelli, owner of grocery delivery company Salt Air Services, is waiving delivery and grocery percentage fees to help customers in Ocean City, West Ocean City, Ocean Pines, Fenwick and Bethany.
“I know during this time it’s very hard for people, for various reasons, to go to grocery stores,” Marinelli said. “Whether they’re concerned for their health, whether they’re busy with their kids being home from school, whatever the case may be … I want to help so that it makes their lives a little easier … [and] I want to make sure that I’m doing my part for the people of Ocean City and the Delaware beaches.”
Rohrer said hotels throughout the state were preparing rooms for first responders and healthcare workers. She also expressed her confidence that the hotel industry would survive the pandemic.
“The health and safety of all of our employees and all of our guests are of the utmost importance, and that comes first,” she said. “But when the travel bans are lifted and the crisis fades, we know that our industry will come back and that people will be eager to travel. We just have to do everything possible to mitigate the affects of the virus and look forward to the day when this is behind us.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has struck fear into the hearts of many who are uncertain of the future, but James, Marinelli, Rohrer and many others emphasized the importance of remaining mentally tough and lending a helping hand to one another.
“We’re all in this together, and if we support one another in any way we can — we’re going to survive this,” James said.
For updates from the Coastal Realtors Association visit https://coastalrealtors.org/COVID-19.