Letter to the Editor: Businessman calls for action protecting Delaware’s small businesses

I was saddened to see another of our small business contemporaries close its doors due to the state’s regulations in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. In today’s world, the word “crisis” is applied to everything it seems, but in the case of small business closings, the term is well-founded.

The restaurant, 33 West Ale House & Grill, reluctantly had to close due to the limited allowance of patrons permitted by state regulations. The fact is 33 West, its staff, food and service are outstanding. If it was business as usual or at least close to it, they would still be operating, and the city of Dover’s downtown landscape would be much better off.

Additionally, we have seen many other businesses either scale back or close as we navigate the sad “new normal.” In Smyrna, The Lemon Leaf Cafe, now closed, was also a favorite of my wife and my family. We would enjoy dinner, then stroll down the street to Painted Stave Distilling for some additional family time. While the Stave has continued operations, like many of our small businesses we hang on for any morsel of reprieve from the state. Without question, all the small businesses beautify the landscape of downtown Smyrna, Dover and the entire state.

Most businesses have an incredible amount of built-in overhead costs and limitations that, prior to COVID-19, were not considered to be a detriment but simply a cost of doing business. Our governor made a comment when slightly opening up our state (which allowed businesses to open with restrictions) that “we need to get our small business community some business.” This comment to a small businessperson was ridiculous and shows a lack of understanding and concern! Most, if not all, small businesses have expensive fixed expenditures. “Some business” to a small business is worse than no business. Why? As soon as we open our doors, expenses such as utilities, employees, rent, mortgages and insurance costs increase and, ultimately, dig an even deeper financial hole — causing a slow death to the business, not to mention the life savings of business owners.

COVID-19 regulations have also had a large daily cost that is not considered by most. Additional cleaning, protective measures and methods utilized to protect our valued patrons have resulted in huge costs in materials and decreased productivity. All these added pressures and challenges to keeping costs to our valued customers relatively the same as before.

This is burning the financial candle at both ends, and it is not sustainable.

It’s understandable why we continue to lose our small businesses. The result of the small business crisis will be depressed downtown areas and communities that rely on them for their great service, as well as the positive activity they promote. It’s imperative that small business become a priority to society and government in actions and legislation. State funding, otherwise known as taxpayer money which has been wisely spent on our downtown areas prior to COVID-19, can now be viewed as a wasted investment, and monies earlier spent will be again needed to prop up or completely restart the area’s businesses and families we hold dear. Downtown areas and small businesses are a fabric of the community — where area families make memories and are excited about the destination.

Actions and legislation are needed. First to our elected leaders: During this crisis, you have done little to warrant your compensation. It would have been honorable and leaderlike to forego or donate your compensation until after the crisis is complete. This is a sign that would ring throughout the community that you truly feel the challenges of all, not simply businesses. It is an action I would have gladly displayed.

Second, the one-size approach to business and customer safety is not working and is poorly planned, if planned at all. A call is necessary from our legislators to quickly put into place a commission that works for both the health and safety of business and customers. The commission must be one of action. As we move into the fall and winter months, more small businesses will be at risk of closing. There are many state and local regulations that could be suspended during this period and must be explored. Without immediate action, our small businesses, communities and all families will continue to be adversely affected.

In closing, may we all agree that very fine small businesses such as 33 West should be the last to close during this period? It should begin a movement to strengthen our resolve to protect well-run, memory-making and great-for-our-community small businesses! The Pugh family and Pugh’s Service send our thanks to Brandon and his 33 West family. You have blessed our family. Thank you!

Mark Pugh