Small businesses feel strain of virus concerns

Construction workers on top of a new archway at the South Bay Road Shopping Center in Dover on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

LEWES — As coronavirus spreads worldwide, the strain on local small business increases daily if not hourly.

Canceled services likely will escalate as global uncertainty drains resources and stokes worries.

Juliana VanTol is concerned for her 15 employees as Lewes-based Maid for Sure receives daily calls to call off appointments.

While one “generous lady” paid for two home cleans not used, the small business is steadily losing revenue.

About half the scheduled home visits have been dropped and supplies are dwindling as well, Ms. VanTol said Wednesday.

“Some people are afraid of anyone coming into their homes, including us,” she said. “We can’t deny our customers their sense of safety and well being.”

If the plunge in volume continues, cutting staff may be inevitable at lease in the short term.

“Right now I’m holding onto everyone but warning them we don’t know what may be coming,” said Ms. VanTol.

The phone “is ringing a lot more, but if things get worse that could change in a hurry,” Goode Cleaning owner Harry Goodman said.

“If business close then we have no place to clean.”

There’s mixed fallout in the industry said Mr. Goodman, who works from Harrington and utilizes 14 employees.

“Some clients are asking for more disinfectant and power cleaning, others are putting everything on hold to limit any outside contacts,” he said.

Pavers has just returned to “full swing” and owner and operator Morris McNeil said current challenges couldn’t come at a worse time. The Morris McNeil Paving Contractor company is still fielding calls asking for prices, so working longer hours six days a week is essential to meeting business demands while they still exist.

The Harrington-based company has a mix of residential and commercial clients.

“Our employees are buckling down because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mr. McNeil said. “It’s a very fluid situation and we don’t know what drastic news may come next.

“So far it’s been good but there’s no certainty to it. This is the time of the season that we have to work as much as possible and we’re figuring it out as we go, it’s just one day at a time.”

Household comes first

Calls into Khristopher Spady’s landscaping company in Felton have dropped in the past two weeks, but the owner said jobs remain scheduled well into April.

Realistically, though, his type of services covering Middletown to Delaware’s beach country may be cut out to limit a family’s expenses if the crisis continues.

“If it comes to taking care of the household first and eating, or if the stock market crashes even more and there’s no money, I’ll be seen as something that can be cut out of the budget,” he said.

As the grass begins growing and temperatures rise, Randy Spiker’s Mispillion Trends business picks up accordingly throughout Kent and Sussex counties. Working solo, social distancing at work hasn’t been needed, he said.

“I mostly cut grass and don’t really interact with other people,” Mr. Spiker said. “If I worked in close proximity with anyone it might be a different story but it’s really just me and the mower.” Mr. Spiker said.

In Georgetown, the local ServPro franchise is following corporate protocols and cleanliness measures while trying to be “extra cautious,” office assistant Allyssa Giroso said.

The company includes 22 overall employees from office staff to members in the field and serves mostly Sussex and Kent counties, ,along with Ocean City, Maryland.

“Everybody is well informed of the policies and procedures we have in place,” Ms. Giroso said. “Our folks know about social distancing, washing hands often, everything that can be done to lower chances of getting sick.

“Also, we ask a lot of questions beforehand about any home or building we enter.”

Smyrna’s Dickies Tree Service is delaying job completions due to customer’s uneasiness about available funds.

“Their reasoning was because they are scared of what’s going to happen financially during the coronavirus outbreak,” crew manager Destiny Laberge said.

“Many of our customers are small businesses owners so when they are affected it affects us.”

Added Ms. Laberge, “We are working with customers to get through the outbreak by offering very fair prices and payment plans.”

Through the door

Interactions with the public have created a new normal for social distancing.

“I’ve also had a few seniors ask to please talk to them through the door when I do their estimates as they are scared to come in contact with anyone,” Ms. Laberge said.

Calls have slowed with as businesses shut down and schools closed, she said.

“Many people are scared to invest in home improvement right now because they fear the future,” she said. “Nobody wants to spend money without knowing if they will have money coming in consistently.”

Millsboro’s Claudia Benzakin has had one inquiry in the past two weeks – from Dover – and that job didn’t pan out.

“I’m just going about my own business, trying to stay away from crowds,” the Claudia’s Cleaning Service owner said. “I’m just waiting until it settles down. Once it gets under control business will return.

“I’m not one of those persons who lives in fear, I just have to keep doing what I’m doing like washing hands and following all the tips and everything will take care of itself.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.