LIMA — Now that state restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been loosened, local businesses are now deciding how to move forward as a new business landscape begins to emerge.
Some are taking their first steps in a difficult market.
Vandalia Rental, a family owned equipment rental company founded in southwestern Ohio, recently opened a new store on Elida Road despite the pandemic. The company, which supplies construction contractors and governmental facilities — among others — with a broad range of equipment, acquired the property in 2019.
When the pandemic hit, they decided to push through with their planned expansion.
“We have two choices: we shrink or grow. We choose to fight rather than freeze,” Vandalia Rental President Kurt Bradley said.
“We were blissfully ignorant coming into an expansion,” said Stephen Barga, Vandalia Rental branch manager in Lima. “We’re just trying to stay positive through it.”
Other businesses, however, are watching their former market levels deteriorate.
Lima/Allen County Chamber President Jed Metzger said many small businesses have been able to keep afloat due to the massive federal aid provided through the CARES Act, but when those dollars stop providing a life-vest at the end of June, he said some businesses will find themselves in hot water paying employees while trying to deal with smaller demand.
“It’s going to be hard to maintain their staffing levels since the income levels they sell at have not come in yet because the market’s not buying,” Metzger said.
At Cecil’s Grill, Owner Thomas Ross Johnson said COVID-19 restrictions have put too many burdens on his limited employees in order to open the inside. He’s been running a skeleton crew to man the drive-thru since the coronavirus pandemic restricted his operations.
“It’s going to be hard getting back to normal. I can’t even sugarcoat that one,” Johnson said between filling customer orders of ribs and coleslaw. “It’s part of business. I’m not complaining, but those bills have to be paid, and it will determine if I can stay open. But I’m trusting in the Lord. I trust that he’ll take care of me,“ Johnson said.
Other businesses have just decided to wait until the market clears up, Metzger said.
“If (the crowds) are going to come and eat at local bars and restaurants, they’ll open in the very near future, but there has been a hesitation from the people I’ve talked to,” Metzger said.
A walk through the Lima Mall shows that more than a few retailers have also been hesitant. As of Tuesday, fans of The Children’s Place, Gamestop, Justice, J.C. Penney and a few more will have to wait before visiting their favorite stores, and a number of storefronts — such as The Primitive Shoppe and Rogers Jewelers — are ominously empty.
Jewelry customers, however, still can head across the space to Kay Jewelers. Both chains are owned by parent company Signet Jewelers.
At Van Wert tattoo parlor Open Minded, business owner Bradde Hamman said he’s concerned about the safety of running such operations that require such close contact during the pandemic even though he could reopen. Financially, he’s secure enough that he could open and test the market, but he’s examining the best path moving forward before taking any leaps.
“I don’t believe tattooing and piercing should be a go right now anyways,” Hamman said. “As far as tattooing goes, I’m sitting on top of someone breathing on an open wound. It’s not logical.”
As for actual permanent closings, they are still relatively sparse across the region. A handful identified include Ruby Tuesday’s Lima location, Tailors on Main and Teasers Diner.
“Some (business owners) I know are holding off until they feel they can get enough of crowd. Even with lower numbers, if they can get that crowd, then they’ll reopen,” Metzger said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.