Massachusetts small businesses already crippled by coronavirus, brace for shutdown

Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency two-week shutdown on most business is another hit to industries already crippled by the coronavirus, business leaders said, renewing cries for officials to provide relief or brace for widespread bankruptcies.

“The bottom line here is under the order it’s more or less making official what’s been occurring in the marketplace. You’re not going to the mall, jewelry stores … those kinds of stores kind of started closing on their own last week,” said John Hurst president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Baker ordered all “nonessential” businesses to close their doors to workers and the public starting at noon Tuesday and going until Tuesday, April 7, at noon.

Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said “many small businesses will not be able to survive” and called on state leaders to provide temporary relief in the form of tax cuts and deregulation to help affected businesses stay afloat.

Jabir Ducasse, co-owner of Villeside Customs, a print shop in Somerville’s Magoun Square, said “we don’t have answers” on when the crisis will end, sowing a lot of uncertainty as rent and other bills come due.

Limits on gatherings and social-distancing mandates have already dealt a gut punch to small businesses, which started laying off employees by the tens of thousands last week, according to unemployment data.

The effects were clear along the eight-block business district on Newbury Street. Typically teeming with shoppers, it was desolate Monday. Signs were hung in the darkened doors and windows of nearly every shop telling customers they are closed amid the COVID-19 crisis. No customers visited the few businesses still open on Monday barely an hour after Gov. Charlie Baker ordered a shutdown.

Behind a locked door at Lit Boutique, manager Christina Green filled online orders — something she’ll no longer be able to do come noon on Tuesday.

BOSTON, MA. – MARCH 23: Christina Green of LIT Boutique works out of her closed store filling online orders as the Coronavirus continues to spread on March 23, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

“My concerns are mostly financial — what will happen with my pay? I don’t know if I can continue as an employee. We are retail — I’m not behind a laptop,” Green said. Lit’s two Boston stores closed last week, cutting about a dozen jobs already, she said.

Paul Cox of Bush Boston Cleaners said his laundry service can stay open under the governor’s new order, but he said he worries the coronavirus could spell the end of his third-generation business. He’s already shuttered two other locations and laid off all of his employees amid declining businesses.

Stefan Bieri’s Teuscher Chocolates — technically a grocery — can also stay open. Amid a nearly 90% drop in customers, Bieri said he is “taking it day by day” and pushing online and delivery orders.

In Central Square, Pandemonium Games Tyler Stewart said the game “Pandemic” has been flying off the shelves, but he’s still had to lay off 22 of his part-time workers. Without a government bailout of some kind, “we’ll be in deep trouble because we have bills to pay,” Stewart said.

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