Commentary: An open letter to small business owners in Delaware

By Bob Older

I want to apologize to all small business owners in Delaware. 

I’ve said before that I don’t believe Delaware is very small-business friendly.  I have tried to make people understand business in Delaware better and in some cases, we have made great strides. However, with top level people, it doesn’t appear we made an impact yet. 

I understand we are in difficult times.  I understand it’s a fine line between health and economy, and that no matter which direction we all take, there may be no right answer.  We care about our loved ones just as much as we care about making a living and putting food on our tables.  It’s not an easy decision and I think we all understand that and the ramifications that come with it.

My personal issue is that our small business owners deserve better.  We deserve better leadership at the very top.   I agree that things needed to be done to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed and to protect the most vulnerable of our population. On a personal level, in my opinion, what we have done since then is not the right answer.

The industries with the best lobbyists got to do things that others could not do.  The governor has said when trends go downwards, we will start the processes of reopening.  

Which governor should we listen to and which one is running our state?  Seems like Gov. Cuomo is making more decisions than the governor we elected is making.   The one we elected says that hospitals are at half of the capacity which we expected.  That is great.   Numbers in New Castle and Kent Counties have had significant drops.  That too is great.  We have allowed dollar stores, big box stores, gun stores and the like to open up and sell more than food.  Reasons?  Either police enforcement would have been too costly, or lobbyists threatened potential lawsuits.  

 Is that what we as a state need to do, sue?  

Over the last few weeks, thousands of people, small business owners, legislators, and most of the chambers of commerce in Delaware have reached out to key people to offer options, make suggestions and in some cases, demand the state reopen.

Last week, the governor opened up a few industries, mostly curbside, to help start up the economy, the bare-bones basics to “show” he was doing something.  Instead of saying those that qualified could open the next day, he made them wait four more days. 

At the same time, he pushed the opening of Phase 1 out two more weeks. contradicting his own statements, charts and actions, which makes little to no sense.  In most areas, numbers are dropping.  In all areas, hospitals are doing well, as are the people in the state.   So why push it further away?  

Let’s all be realistic here.  There are many people that want to go out and eat, support businesses, and start doing “normal” things.  There are probably just as many that want to stay home some more and be and feel safer.  Neither side is wrong.  But shouldn’t we be trying to help both sides?  

Many business owners that I have talked to don’t want to open up right away either.  Many do.  Those with rents and costs above a house mortgage need to start bringing in money.  

The federal government’s attempt at a stimulus package was the largest bait and switch scam in our country’s history.  I own a small business and applied April 1 for Economic Injury Disaster Loan.  To date, no answers, no communications, no money.  Many of the businesses that need help the most didn’t get it.  Many were convinced to move to a loan instead, which put small business owners in more debt. 

 It’s time for our governor to do what he is supposed to – GOVERN. 

Do what is right for small business.  Start opening now, not in three weeks with strong limitations and restrictions.   We are in a world today that if someone is abusing that system, everyone will know about it.  Some businesses may open, some may choose to stay closed.  Some customers may start to come back, some may choose not to yet.  But if gun stores can have one person at a time in their business or Walmart can sell anything and everything, then most of our stores, offices, businesses can do something similar. And honestly, because we are small businesses, it would be much easier to maintain and enforce the restrictions. 

This letter is to all of you. It’s not to a person who is listening to other states to dictate what happens here, but instead it’s to each and every one of the business owners and the citizens with a voice.   Use it legally.  Use it smartly.  Use it where it counts. This is not a political statement; it is a statement in support of our small business community.

Bob Older is president of the Delaware Small Business Chamber.