Closed sign in the window at Modern Day Music in West St. Paul

How West St. Paul Businesses Cope With COVID-19

Thanks to Amore Coffee for their support.

Coronavirus is upending business as usual everywhere, but the impacts can be especially hard for small businesses. Some are closed and some have had to radically alter their regular operations. We’ve already explored how some businesses have adapted, but today we talk to several West St. Paul businesses about how they’re coping with COVID-19.

How’s Business?

“We have certainly seen a decline in business,” says Zak Metzger, owner of Zak’s Auto Service. “Many of our customers are holding off on doing large repairs. I think many of them are feeling uncertain about the future.”

Eclipse Music, which had to completely close, saw a rush of people before the shutdown.

“People were making an effort to get out and buy things they needed,” says Eclipse Music owner John Justen. “If you’re going to get shut down you might need an extra set of guitar strings.”

Businesses that offer education, such as music lessons or martial arts training, have shifted those classes online. Modern Day Music has seen a majority of students continue their lessons.

“We have lost some families who have lived paycheck-to-paycheck and just lost their jobs, but so far most are sticking with us,” says Jena Bushey, owner of Legacy American Martial Arts.

Though not everyone is slowing down. Johnny Dang, owner of Nowak’s Liquor, reports being really busy and says deliveries have increased.

Changing Practices

“We have had to pivot hard,” says Bushey. “Now our classes have gone 100% online.”

While their studio is closed, Legacy American Martial Arts relies on Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube to stay connected with their students. They offer a story time twice a week for families (“several parents say their children look forward to it as much as their classes”) and rather than just serving existing students, Legacy launched a four-session, online-only intro to Taekwondo course.

Modern Day Music is also using Zoom to keep music lessons going.

“While remote learning is an adjustment over in-person lessons, our teachers are exercising their creativity to find fun ways to keep their students engaged,” says owner Emily Kellerman.

They’re also using Zoom to answer music questions and give live help. “Helping a new guitarist change a string is a bit more challenging, but it is possible!” says Kellerman.

Beyond lessons, the closure has forced Modern Day Music to shift to mail order.

“We’ve had some people disappointed that we are not open for curb-side pickup, but we strongly feel it is important to follow the health guidelines that our governor has set forth,” says Kellerman. “Most local packages are delivered the next day. Overall our customers have been very supportive.”

While still open, Zak’s Auto Service has closed their waiting area, asks customers to leave their keys in a drop box, and does payment over the phone. Like a lot of places, they’re wearing gloves, washing hands, and using a lot of disinfectant wipes and sprays.

“We go through the entire store to wipe down all the counters, door handles to all the cooler doors, and shelves before leaving each night,” says Dang, noting that Nowak’s Liquor has decreased their hours to accommodate all the cleaning. 

How Are You, Really?

“The day-to-day to existence is very rudderless when you’re not doing what you’re accustomed to,” says Justen. “I’m lucky because we were prepared for this, but nobody wants to not have income coming in.”

Whether businesses are closed or open or going through changes, it can be a struggle to adapt.

“It has been very difficult for us as we enjoy the social aspect of our business,” says Zak Metzger. “However we all need to do our part to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of this virus.”

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.

“We see all the students as they check in for the lesson. We’ve met lots of pets and seen some great music room decorations,” says Kellerman. “It is encouraging to see so many Minnesotans making the best of these unprecedented times.”

Hope Abounds

As difficult as things may be, there was a sense of hope and optimism among the business owners we talked to.

“When we see how happy our students are to see us, even if we’re training in our homes through a screen, it motivates us to keep going,” says Bushey. “We have had a lot of support from our students and families. Several have thanked us for keeping a sense of normalcy to their lives.”

A lot of that hope comes from knowing the community has their back.

“The customers and my employees, they seriously are the best,” says Dang, who reports customers bringing in gloves and sanitizer when he couldn’t find any. “We’re so happy they are thinking about our safety as well.”

“[Before the shutdown] people made a concerted effort to support the small businesses they like,” says Justen. “When we get out of this, I think there will be a surge of people coming out to do that again.”

It’s going to take that kind of local effort to help many businesses recover. And you don’t have to wait—here’s a GoFundMe effort to support local restaurants while feeding medical workers.

“What gives us the most hope is seeing the community step up to help their neighbors,” says Metzger. “Seeing all the kindness, love, and generosity in our community gives us faith that we will once again see brighter days.”

(Updated April 21, 2020 with comments from Johnny Dang.)

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