From the Business Desk ... COVID-19 means job loss, shuttered businesses; 'Good news' welcome

Chairs are stacked on tables in the roped-off food court area at West Park Mall on Wednesday in Cape Girardeau. Many stores in the mall have either temporarily closed or have adjusted their hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
JAY WOLZ

As much as I want to write a business column without mentioning it, there's no way I can without talking about COVID-19 and the impact it's having on economies around the world as well as on businesses right here in the Cape Girardeau area.

I am 64 years old, and I cannot recall anything else in my lifetime that has had such a wide ripple effect on almost every segment of our economy. Yes, there was the "Blizzard of '79" and the ice storm 11 years ago that knocked out power for many for several days. But in both of those instances, people knew life would return to normal in fairly short order. Even the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, while devastating to our nation's psyche, didn't have the same kind of effect coronavirus seems to be having globally, nationally and right here at home.

I'm writing this column from an office I've set up at my home (formerly a bedroom), where I've written almost all of my news articles for several days now. In fact, most members of the Missourian's news staff are also working from their homes, and as of last week, the public has limited access to the Southeast Missourian's offices. We're taking these steps to help reduce the possibility of spreading the virus.

On Saturday, Gov. Mike Parson announced statewide restrictions on public gatherings (no more than 10 persons) and "social distancing," requiring people to maintain at least 6 feet between them. Restaurants and fast food establishments can remain open, but can only offer drive-through, delivery and pick up services. These restrictions went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today and will remain in effect until at least April 6.

In a news conference, Parson said there's no question coronavirus will lead to job losses and business closings.

"There's going to be many people (who will) lose their jobs before this is over," he said, "but the main thing you've got to do is you've got to figure out how you can keep businesses open as long as we can to make sure people maintain jobs."

The governor said he and other state leaders are "trying to figure out how we can help those business owners, especially small business owners, the mom and pops out there trying to keep their doors open at a time like this, because losing employees is one thing, but if you lose your employees and you lose your business at the same time, that has a tremendous effect on the economy in the state."

Many restaurants in Cape Girardeau, Jackson and throughout the region had already discontinued dine-in services as of last week and a significant number of retail outlets have either temporarily closed or shortened their hours in response to COVID-19. From grocery stories to schools, clothing outlets to hotels, coronavirus is having an impact.

A front desk employee at a Cape Girardeau hotel told me over the weekend staff hours were being reduced due to low occupancy because fewer people were traveling and were canceling their reservations.

At a local hardware store, an employee at the checkout counter said he and his co-workers have been instructed to wear gloves to avoid touching money that might be contaminated with the virus.

And at West Park Mall, nearly every store and outlet has been impacted, including two of the mall's anchors, Macy's and J.C. Penney, which have closed their doors until at least early April.

The mall is owned by CBL Properties in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Stacey Keating, CBL's senior director of public relations and corporate communications, directed me to the mall's COVID-19 webpage. The page outlines some of the temporary changes that have taken place at the mall due to coronavirus. They include:

* Cancellation or postponement of all mall events, including West park's Easter photo program.

* An increased emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing of all high-traffic common areas.

* Closure of the children's play area until further notice.

* Closure of the mall's food court, although as of last week, restaurants and food court tenants remained open for takeout orders only.

Grocery stores and general merchandise retailers in the area continue to see brisk sales of nonperishable foods, canned goods, cleaning products, bottled water and toilet paper.

And one firearms store in Cape Girardeau told me last week they've seen a 10-fold increase in the sale of guns and ammunition in recent days.

Perhaps people want to guard their toilet paper supply.


Business is apparently booming for Walmart these days. The company announced last week it is handing out a "special cash bonus" to hourly associates "for their hard work and dedication to serving customers in a time of an unprecedented national health crisis."

The bonus is for all U.S. hourly associates in stores, clubs, supply chains and offices and will amount to $300 for full-time associates and $150 for part-time employees working for the company on or before March 1, and will add up to more than $365 million. The company said in a news release it will also accelerate its next quarterly employee bonuses, paying out nearly $180 million a month early

In addition, Walmart says it will hire 150,000 new associates between now and the end of May, including more than 4,300 in Missouri.

More information is available at www.walmartcareers.com or by texting "jobs" to 240240.


I received word via social media Friday that BART (Bootheel Area Rapid Transit) was closing permanently after 33 years of providing transportation to and from Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

I checked BART's website where a message has been posted saying "shuttles are suspended due to current situation with COVID-19."

After seeing this on the website, I called the company to clarify whether the service was "suspended" or if the business was closing, but was only told "no comment."

If and when I find out more, I'll pass it along.


Last week, I told you about a coronavirus program titled "Reducing the Risk: How to Stay Physically and Financially Healthy During the COVID-19 Crisis" that was scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Jackson Civic Center.

However, the Civic Center has since been temporarily closed and government officials are discouraging gatherings of more than 10 people, so the program will now take place online.

To view the free, one-hour program -- sponsored by the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, BOLD and Saint Francis Healthcare System -- log on to the Jackson chamber Facebook page before the program start time.

For more information, call the Jackson chamber, (573) 243-8131.


A final note. Normally the Missourian's weekly business section includes a lengthy feature we refer to as the "Business Notebook." That feature is absent this week because apparently the business community's attention has been focused on COVID-19 (and rightfully so), and there were no noteworthy business activities to report. There were no significant promotions or hirings, no business openings, no chamber of commerce ribbon cuttings and no business license applications or commercial building permits.

Yes, coronavirus is disrupting our lives and the ways we do business, but that doesn't mean businesses and their employees aren't doing things worthy of reporting.

Therefore, starting today, we want area businesses to send us notes about the positive things they and their employees are doing in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

For instance, Banterra Bank, 1650 N. Kingshighway, is hosting the American Red Cross' mobile blood donation unit from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. March 30 in response to the nationwide blood shortage due to COVID-19. "We heard the national plea for blood donors in (Thursday's) White House press conference and our team jumped on the phone to make this happen quickly," said Banterra president Jeff May.

Maybe you're a business owner whose employees are helping with Meals on Wheels. Perhaps they're volunteering to shop or do yard work for elderly residents who have been confined to their homes.

Whatever it is, we want to know about it and share the good news with others during these challenging times.

Send your information to business@semissourian.com (and don't forget to let us know about your "non-coronavirus" business news as well!).

Do you crave business news? Check out B Magazine, and the B Magazine email newsletter. Check it out at www.semissourian.com/newsletters to find out more.