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Tallahassee Small Businesses Brace For Impact From Coronavirus

Man in tee and shirt stand next to giant bus.
Robbie Gaffney

Small businesses in Tallahassee are already facing financial impacts from efforts taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The parking lot outside Mikes Limousine Service is full.  The charter buses, limos and trolleys lining the lot are "cleaned, fueled, ready to go anywhere that they want," says General Manager Ted Redig.

buses lined up in a garage
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Several of Redig's charter buses are standing still when they should be out on the road in service.

But they're not going anywhere. The vehicles are grounded because almost all Redig's customers have canceled. One of the upcoming bookings would have made him $40,000.

"Did some preliminary numbers the other day some stuff that's in the next ensuing couple of weeks—have cancellations in the neighborhood of $70,000 right now," Redig says.

Schools have closed due to the coronavirus--meaning students won't need charter buses for athletic events, competitions, or field trips. People are starting to rethink upcoming wedding plans and celebrations. Redig doesn't think he'll see much business until the end of April.

"I'm hoping within 90 days this is going to go away. However, in 90 days, I'm in [the] slow season, which is summertime for us. We don't make nearly the kind of capital we do... If we're closed for the next 90 days, realistically, we'll lose roughly a third of our annual income," Redig says.

Two fish swim in a tank. One is bigger than the other.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Hoover's store carries a variety of creatures.

Redig has already applied for a small business emergency loan. However, depending on how much he gets, Redig estimates it could take two to three years to recover his losses.

In a different part of town, a small pet supply store hasn't felt any immediate impacts from the coronavirus outbreak. Carol Hoover, the owner of Carol's Critters, says it's too soon to tell what the effect will be. She says spring break is usually quiet.

"So we'll see in the next few weeks how much it impacts us, but fortunately we have no regulations about when we have to close. None of our shipping or supply lines have changed. So we're planning on being here as usual as long as we're able to."

Right now, her business hasn't been impacted by the coronavirus, and Hoover says she's not worried about catching it from customers.

"Most of our interactions are going to be across a counter or not really close, and I'm not too concerned about that at this point in Leon County. If I were in another city—very possible. But here in Tallahassee, Leon County, I feel pretty comfortable with this community here," Hoover says.

Woman smiles down at a medium-sized bird perched on her hand
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Carol Hoover, owner of Carol's Critters, takes out one of the pet birds she is selling. She says all of the animals she sells come from within the United States.

Mike Myhre, CEO of the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, offers some insight into the dichotomy of these two businesses. His agency is overseeing a short-term loan program for small businesses that is now activated due to the coronavirus. He says different industries are feeling different pain.

"Just in the last 48 hours since the governor activated the Florida small business emergency bridge loan program, we have received about 1500 emails, countless telephone calls, faxes all applying for or asking inquiries about the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan," Myhre says. "We haven't even able to take a breath to actually do an accurate count of the number of inquiries and applications we received thus far."

The day after Myhre made that statement, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced the federal disaster loan program is also available for small businesses in Florida. It extends to non-profits, agricultural co-ops, and aquaculture enterprises. Up to $2 million can be allocated per loan, and owners could have up to 30 years for repayments. 

Myhre says the majority of businesses applying for the short-term loans are from the retail and service industries—like restaurants or bars.  He says he hopes the programs will help soften the long-term effects of the coronavirus.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.