‘Downtown is bleeding’

Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon speaks during a press conference giving community updates on the COVID-19 situation Wednesday, April 8, 2020, inside the Capitol.

Stores adapting to pandemic as stimulus checks arrive

TORRINGTON – As Wyoming nears the predicted peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in downtown Torrington are finding innovative ways to keep the lights on as there still seems to be no clear answer as to when things will fully get back to normal.
Some have moved online, some have implemented delivery services and some are still looking for ways to survive the storm – but they’re all looking forward to the day when things are back to normal.
“A lot of downtown businesses are talking, and saying ‘we need to open up,’” Goshen County Economic Development Corporation CEO Lisa Miller said. “’We’re bleeding and we can’t just keep bleeding.’ They’re trying to get to where they can start soft-opening some of these businesses.
“They’re hurting, and they’re worried about how much longer they can stay closed and still be able to open their doors back up.”
There may be some hope though, as federal CARES Act stimulus payouts are beginning to arrive. The stimulus checks and deposits are intended to revive the economy. According to Miller, everyone’s first mission should be to take care of themselves. But, once that’s taken care of, it’s more important than ever to shop local.

Pay your bills
Under the CARES Act, almost every adult will receive $1,200, plus $500 for every child under the age of 18. The act is using tax data from either 2018 or 2019 to figure out who gets what, and the money is starting to trickle in.
Despite online rumors, the stimulus check is not an advance on next year’s tax rebate. According to taxfoundation.org, it’s an additional refundable rebate on top of 2020 refunds. Though there’s rumbling in Washington about a second stimulus, it’s not certain.
Brayden Connour, GCEDC Business Development Coordinator, said people should take care of their own business first.
“I think that’s what the whole thought process behind the stimulus money was,” he said. “It’s to try and boost the economy when we come back out of this. I hope people will do what they need to do with the money they are getting.
“Hopefully, they can put it back into the local economy. I think everybody has their own needs. I think that’s the main thing – I hope no one gets too far behind. It’s uncertain times for sure.”
Miller said it’s important to contact creditors during the pandemic, as well. She said many of them are willing to work with their customers, provided they take the time to make contact.
“Work with your bank and your creditors,” she said. “If you call and ask, like if you have a car payment, they’ll most likely defer it. If you’re behind, just call your creditors and they’ll work with you. They’re there to help, but they’re not going to do it unless you ask.
“Take the time and call. Call your bank, your creditors and they will work with you. They’re sympathetic because all of us are going through it.”
And, if it’s at all possible, it’s still important to pay rent and utility bills. Wyoming hasn’t enacted a statewide ban on evictions, but the city of Torrington has suspended late fees and service disconnections for local utilities, while Wyrulec has determined to take action on a case-by-case basis. Sandy Hoehn, GCEDC Community Development Director, said paying those bills should be a priority.
“Make sure that you are paying your rent and stuff like that,” she said. “I know right now, there’s a pause, but as soon as this is over everything is going to go back to normal. Pay your bills first, then go out into the community and help the community as much as you can, because their favorite stores might not be here when this is all over with. We want to ensure they will be here.”

More important than ever
While state orders have made doing business difficult for local businesses, many have found ways to persist.
According to Miller, many local businesses have successfully moved online, or are utilizing social media to connect with customers. Once the bills are paid, Miller said it’s more important than ever to support local business.
“We want to continue to shop local, shop online, order takeout, order delivery – constantly helping our businesses every way you can,” Miller said.
Hoehn and Miller encouraged locals to take advantage of one of the few silver linings that has emerged from the COVID-19 cloud – local delivery. Many restaurants in town, as well as some retail stores, have switched to delivery models.
“This is something residents of Goshen County aren’t used to,” Miller said.
“Take advantage of the deliveries,” Hoehn said. “That’s not going to last forever, either. It’s awesome that all of our restaurants are delivering right now, and some of them are even going as far as Yoder.”
While retail businesses were exempt from Governor Mark Gordon’s closure orders, many of them chose to close anyway to monitor the way the virus would develop.
State Senator Cheri Steinmetz, who owns and operates Home on the Range, was one of those. She said that while the COVID-19 pandemic was a great example of how a community can work together, it was also very tough on local businesses.
“It has been really hard on local businesses,” she said. “We always pull together as a community and come through things. We always support one another around here, so it’s a great place to live and have a business.”
Home on the Range offered private shopping sessions during the closure, but Steinmetz is planning on a soft re-opening, starting Monday. The store will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and staff will limit the number of people in the store at any given time.
“We’ll definitely limit the amount of people coming in, but being in downtown Torrington for our shop, we rarely have 10 people in here unless it’s Christmas,” she said. “During that season, we might have that many. We’ll definitely be aware of how many people are coming in at a time and making sure we take all of the sanitary precautions, like cleaning everything and doing those types of things.”
There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 – but some businesses are at a point where sitting still isn’t an option.
“We can’t sit idle forever and keep our doors open,” Steinmetz said. “We need income, especially when you’re getting summer merchandise on and you have a lot of bills to pay. “There’s that part of it, and people are wanting to come downtown to a safe place and spend a little bit of time outside of their house, too. I think we can provide that for them.”

Preparing to re-open
During a press conference on last week, Gordon said he and other state officials are beginning to look at what life is like on the far side of the pandemic, once the curve is flat and it’s safe to at least begin looking like the pre-COVID-19 world – but it won’t be the same.
“We are going to emerge into a new reality, a new economy,” he said. “Social distancing is not going to go away. We need to start thinking about what our schools will look like next year. I’ve been talking with the judicial part of our government to make sure we understand what trials are going to look like. So, we are all talking about what our new reality is going to look like.”
Gordon hasn’t rolled back any of his closure orders, and he still urged Wyomingites to take social distancing precautions seriously.
Miller said she doesn’t envy the governor’s position. It’s a tough balance to protect both life and the economy. Instead of re-opening at once, sectors of the economy will begin to churn to life. When they do, shop local.
“The governor has a very important decision – is it more important to protect lives, or more important to open up businesses?” she said. “Even he is saying it’s important not to let our guard down, but you can still support your local businesses.
“They’re not going to say ‘OK, everybody open your doors.’ There’s going to be a soft roll-out opening certain sectors of businesses. As that happens, support those businesses.”

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