Log in

2020 was a difficult year for local businesses

Posted 1/5/21

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on every aspect of day-to-day life, including the world of business. From big box stores to mom-and-pop shops, in cities big and small, the impact of …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already have an account? Log in to continue.

Current print subscribers can create a free account by clicking here

Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe. The five stories do not include our exclusive content written by our journalists.

For $6.99, less than 20 cents a day, digital subscribers will receive unlimited access to YourValley.net, including exclusive content from our newsroom and access to our Daily Independent e-edition.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor

2020 was a difficult year for local businesses


The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on every aspect of day-to-day life, including the world of business. From big box stores to mom-and-pop shops, in cities big and small, the impact of COVID-19 was felt by businessowners across the board.

Governor Doug Ducey first signed an executive order announcing a state of emergency in Arizona on March 11. There were only nine confirmed cases in the state at the time of Ducey’s executive order and no clear idea of how bad things might get or what might be done to combat a potential crisis.

Last March is when the coronavirus first sank its teeth into Arizona businesses, with gyms, bars and movie theaters ordered to close as folks prepared to flip the calendar to April. It was at this time that restaurants also had to shift to takeout and drive-through service only and non-essential businesses across the state had to close for a temporary lockdown. If you didn’t own or operate one of these essential businesses, you were asked to stay at home.

While businesses scrambled to address the changes brought on by the coronavirus, unemployment rates skyrocketed.

Arizona’s stay-at-home order was extended to May 15, which is about the time it became clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going to disappear with the rising temperatures. There was a summer spike in the number of cases and deaths related to the virus and, after a more mild fall, both of those statistics have climbed by leaps and bounds through the winter.

While the Paycheck Protection Program, forgivable business loans and other measures were rolled out to help combat the financial impact of COVID-19, Arizona businesses were not able to begin the crawl back toward “normal” until August. Strict reopening procedures were in place, but everything from staffing to customer comfort levels and the ability to pay for necessary safety precautions continue to have an impact into late 2020.

Some businessowners implemented creative measures to rebuild their bottom line while others did their best simply to make ends meet in light of restrictions and mandatory safety measures.

This struggle continues into the new year but, with vaccines rolling out across the country and additional federal assistance anticipated, businessowners hope that a return to “business as usual” is just over the horizon.

Local impact

During Arizona’s stay-at-home order, restaurants were one of the businesses labeled “essential.” Eateries had to shift to a takeout-only model during the lockdown and still have to make safety accommodations such as staff wearing masks, more spacing between tables, etc.

Despite the fact that restaurants did not have to close their doors during the pandemic, Phil’s Filling Station owner Phil Rodakis admits that 2020 was a very tough year.

According to Rodakis, it became clear in March that the pandemic was going to have an impact on business, noting that as news of the severity of COVID-19 began to circulate, customers grew more cautious about eating out. He said that he usually hosts about 1,000 customers on St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, whereas this year he served around 120. That was on a Tuesday, and Rodakis said the stay-at-home order came out just a few days later.

“It’s been a huge adjustment,” Rodakis said. “It’s been a challenge throughout the year, from staffing to getting supplies. You’re dealing with the unknown.”

It’s that lack of knowing, according to Rodakis, that hit local businessowners the hardest. He said that Fountain Hills is a consistent community and, so long as you understand its ins and outs, you can predict when business will be up, when it will be down, and what you’ll need to do to keep an operation afloat. This past year, however, obliterated any sense of normalcy for his business. An example he gave is the community’s winter residents. A group he’s traditionally able to count on during the cooler weather, Rodakis said he’s seen a fraction of the customers he usually gets from this particular group.

“I’ve been in town 22 years and business is the same every year, give or take five or 10 percent,” he said. “We need January, February, March and April to get us through the slower summers, and we don’t know that we’ll get that this year.”

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, Rodakis said that it has helped him to rethink his business a bit and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. He started delivering orders for the first time in 2020 and set up his website so customers can order and pay online, allowing for much faster transactions.

“Everyone is improvising to try to keep business coming in,” Rodakis said. “[I’ve learned] that you have to be aware and prepare for the unexpected. 2020 is behind us now. I survived 22 years by saving for a rainy day and that storm came in 2020…I hope we can get back to the way things were a couple of years ago. The four years prior to COVID were probably the best I ever had. I don’t know if we’ll get back to that, but I hope things will get better. I think the next few months will determine how 2021 will go for small businesses; for everyone, not just for me.”

Go Divas Salon owner Shelly Jahnke shared a similar story, noting that the drop in business was compounded by the money she had to spend to meet safety guidelines.

Salons closed during the stay-at-home order and could only reopen months later with new health safety measures in place.

“I thought we’d close down for the 15 days to stop the spread, but then it went into being closed for six weeks,” Jahnke said. “Then we had to completely remodel. I had to lose three stations to keep everyone six feet apart and we couldn’t double book anymore, because we can only have so many people in the salon. It’s totally affected us, financially.”

When asked how she will remember 2020, Jahnke’s answer was blunt.

“I hope I can forget 2020,” she said. “Just try to forget it and let’s move on…You’re never prepared for something this catastrophic, so you just have to be thankful every day for what you have.”

Travel is another area that took a hit due to COVID-19, which in turn impacted businesses like Finishing Touch Body Shop. Owner Matthew Tilden said his business was another that fell into the essential category, but keeping the doors open didn’t mean survival was an easy task.

“Right from the get-go, we knew this was going to be an issue,” Tilden said. “As the pandemic played out, we saw a sharp reduction in travel and insurance claims, which in turn directly affected our business.

“We were blessed to be able to stay open…Our business for the year is off over 14 percent, which is a pretty large sum of money.”

Despite that, Tilden said he and his staff hunkered down and have weathered the storm.

“We paid close attention to our business and tried to make sure we were making the best decisions,” he added. “Our business dropped severely, but we knew we needed to take all of the necessary precautions to keep our staff safe so they could be comfortable, knowing they could come to work and not have COVID-19 affect them.”

Looking back, Tilden said that 2020 reminded him that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

“We’re hoping we can get back on track,” he said. “Maybe it won’t ever return to that level but, if not, we need to continue to pay attention to our business and make sure we’re making the right moves to deal with a reduction in income.

“But only time will tell…We’ve been in business since 1980. We’ve been on a growth curve for many years, so this has made us take a step back and reassess. I wish I had a crystal ball to predict the future, but this year has taught me that we have to be able to react and to do so quickly. You just need to keep our head down and keep focused on your business.”