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Businesses Sinking Or Swimming In The COVID Economy

Colin's Restaurant

The economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a deathknell for some businesses. But others are thriving.

Baltimore County is trying to figure out why some businesses are doing well, and how the others that are tanking might be helped.

Dante Daniels started Colin’s Restaurant, named after his son, in Randallstown about 7 years ago. Then he decided to open a second location in the city.

“We were talking about opening in March,” Daniels said chuckling

That didn’t happen since that was just when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“The construction never slowed down anything, but when it comes down to getting licenses, when they closed courthouses, the liquor board, everything just slowed down from there," Daniels said.

He said he focused on shifting his Randallstown restaurant to 100% carryout, then he turned his attention back to the second restaurant, which finally opened last month.

Daniels said COVID or no, to make it in the restaurant business you have to be persistent and stay consistent.

He said there was a line at the door when his new restaurant opened. The word went out through Facebook, Instagram, email blasts and neighborhood newsletters.

“Until they put a padlock on the door, I’m not going to stop fighting,” Daniels said.

He said he qualified for a loan from the government’s paycheck protection program, the PPP, which really saved the day.

Business owners like Daniels who have been able to adjust can make it in the COVID economy, according to Scott Phillips, the Managing Director for Legal and Business Consulting Services.

“But that’s not everybody,” Phillips said. “There is going to be a significant number of businesses that are lost, unfortunately. Not everybody is going to be able to weather the storm.”

And just what that economic storm is looking like now, the fourth month of the COVID pandemic, was made clear during a forum of Baltimore County business leaders.

For instance, county economic development director Will Anderson said hotels are operating at only 25% occupancy. He described that as crushing.

Daraius Irani, chief economist for Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, predicts the economy as we knew it before March will not return for several more years.

For one thing, Irani said the reopening of the economy is being driven by government policy.

“It’s not being dictated by animal spirits,” Irani said. “It’s being dictated by the fact that we’re opening restaurants on a 50%, 75%, 100% level, slowly but surely.”

Irani added businesses with the highest risk of transmitting infection-- like restaurants, airlines, concerts and live sporting events--will not rebound until we feel safe using them. He said that could be next year,  assuming there is no second wave.

However, Irani said there is opportunity for those businesses that can do a rapid pandemic pivot.

“Many people have gotten used over the last four months now, do their grocery shopping online, have it delivered,” Irani said. “Those types of jobs and logistic coordinators are going to be needed.”

Baltimore County has a $10 million grant program to help small businesses that did not qualify for government assistance like the PPP. So far, about $1.3 million of that has been distributed to more than 200 businesses.  According to County Executive Johnny Olszewski, more than 50% of those awards have been to businesses owned by women and minorities.

According to Phillips, there is another factor at work that is helping some businesses during the downturn; Black Lives Matter.

“With folks wanting to do business, seeking out opportunities to do business very specifically with black-owned firms," Phillips said. "And that’s something that within the last three to four weeks that I’m beginning to see.”

Philips said everyone needs to have an intentionally inclusive mind set, otherwise people will be left behind, which will not be good for a recovering economy.