Iowa small businesses left in limbo by constantly-changing COVID-19 situation

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The music seeping through the walls from the restaurant next door was the only sound that broke up the silence inside a Great Clips salon in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday afternoon.

A Great Clips salon in northeast Cedar Rapids sits empty on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Mary Green/KCRG)

The lights were off, stylists’ supplies were nowhere in sight, and the salon across from Lindale Mall sat empty, two days after Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered all salons, along with tattoo parlors, tanning facilities and pools, to close until at least the end of March.

“For us, what that means is approximately 220 families don’t have any income until we’re allowed to reopen,” Sam Reges, a Great Clips franchisee, said.

Reges and her family own 17 Great Clips franchises in eastern Iowa, along with several more in western Iowa and Nebraska, totaling at 27 franchises.

In the week before Reynolds’ order, Reges said they had taken more precautions against the coronavirus. Along with upping their cleaning and sanitation processes, they had suspended beard trimming services to reduce face-to-face contact between stylists and clients, kept an unoccupied chair between clients to space them out in the salon, and allowed staff the choice to stay at home or come to work.

They had also closed 11 of their 27 salons temporarily by last Friday.

“One of the reasons would be because so many staff at that time had started making decisions to stay home or work less hours, et cetera, and we also had lowering customer counts,” Reges said.

Reges said profits had been falling at some of their salons recently, as more customers decided to stay home. Since mid-March, Cedar Rapids and other Iowa municipalities have been encouraging people to practice social distancing and not leave their homes unless they need to.

“The reason that we stayed open for the last week or week-and-a-half, whatever, that we were open was to make sure that our staff who wanted to work could have hours,” Reges said.

With doors closed for at least the next week, Reges’ salons don’t have money coming in, but they lease the property at all 27 establishments and have more bills to pay.

A stimulus bill that would provide relief to millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus, along with American businesses, has yet to be finalized in Congress, as Democrats and Republicans have disagreed over the terms of the plan.

“We want to provide every assistance program we can to our staffs, so any loans that help us do that or any grants or any programs, however you term it, any programs that help us do that are going to be the best for us as a small business owner,” Reges said.

On Monday, Reynolds announced new grants for small businesses in Iowa suffering because of the coronavirus, but Reges and her family aren’t eligible.

“We have 220 employees, and the Iowa programs that they were referencing on the call yesterday were between 2 and 25 employees,” she said, estimating that about 150 of their employees work in eastern Iowa.

When asked at a press conference on Tuesday about how long she’d be willing to keep Iowa businesses closed to prevent the spread of the virus, Reynolds said she wasn’t going to speculate on a length of time, instead referencing the metrics she said state leaders have been using to make such decisions.

“They are running numbers all the time, working with communities and individuals across the state, and we’re going to continue to do that and base our decisions on the data we have in front of us,” Reynolds said.

Meanwhile, Reges and her family are in the process of furloughing their employees so they can keep their benefits, and they have encouraged workers to file for unemployment.

With so much changing each day and so many unknowns still remaining, Reges said they don’t know if that is even the right decision.

“I don’t think that there is a perfect solution right now,” Reges said.