With more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 already reported across Louisiana and new cases appearing every day, some small business owners wonder if they will be able to keep their doors open for the remainder of the pandemic.
Victor’s Cafeteria has operated for 51 years in downtown New Iberia, but co-owner Catherine Huckaby said her business won’t survive much longer if they don’t find a new way to attract customers.
“We have been open on the day hurricanes are going to strike,” Huckaby said. “And we have had more business on those days than on some of the days we’re having for the COVID-19 impact. And I’m quite serious.”
Although restaurants are only allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity during Phase 2 of reopening, she said the public’s fear of the virus is hurting business far more than the occupancy limit.
“They’re afraid for the people making the food, and they are afraid to come in and sit down,” she said.
In order to remedy that problem, Victor’s Cafeteria started offering curbside pick-up and home delivery, but not many people have taken advantage of these options, she said.
Other local businesses, such as Preservation Bar & Grill, have continued to serve a substantial number of customers during the pandemic, but issues with their suppliers are hurting business, General Manager Alexis Indest said.
“We have a lot of purveyors that are having to shut down because their employees are getting sick, and so it’s keeping us from getting product in.” Indest said.
According to Indest, the capacity limit hasn’t been much of an issue for Preservation Bar & Grill, which has a back patio where customers can be seated. But seating customers on the patio isn’t an option in bad weather. That is especially problematic on Wednesdays and Thursdays when the bar has live entertainment.
“We can do it on the patio, when it’s nice. When it’s raining or super hot, we were inside and now we can’t do that,” she said. “So that was a lot of a draw for a lot of our customers coming in.”
The timing of the first wave of the pandemic was actually fortuitous for Indest. Plans had already been made to shut down and move the restaurant to a new location farther down Main Street, which was done in April and May.
Although some businesses are suffering during the pandemic, other businesses such as Smoker’s Choice, a local convenience store, hasn’t seen a decline in profits, according to Smoker’s Choice owner and Iberia Parish Councilman Paul Landry.
While his business isn’t seeing customers as frequently as it used to, customers who previously only bought one or two packs of cigarettes started buying one or two cartons of cigarettes after the outbreak, Landry said.
In addition, the process of adjusting his business to operate during the pandemic was relatively painless. He was able to purchase hand sanitizer for his employees early in the pandemic, some of which he was able to resell, he said. He even found a decontamination and disinfecting company that was willing to offer its services to Smoker’s Choice for a reasonable price, he said.
Landry said he thinks the pandemic will end soon as long as citizens follow local and federal regulations.
“I think if we follow the basic guidelines that the feds and state put on us, wearing the mask and social distancing, I think it’s just going to be a matter of time this thing works itself away,” he said.
David Reed is an undergraduate student in journalism at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.