THE YEAR OF COVID: Businesses holding on until the pandemic ends

Stuyvesant Plaza parking lot in Guilderland is nearly empty March 19, 2020.
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Stuyvesant Plaza parking lot in Guilderland is nearly empty March 19, 2020.

The impact of COVID on retail commerce seems a minor consideration compared with the untimely death of 1,000 people.

But it does impact directly the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and the fabric of our communities.

Without its unique places to eat, shop and congregate, a city or town loses a big part of its identity.

Some familiar names are gone temporarily or forever from the Capital Region business scene but most remain — the pandemic’s impact has not been as severe here as in some other regions of the state and nation.

That may be due to the economy here being strong before the pandemic started, and it may be due to the pandemic restrictions being lifted promptly in springtime.

There’s also the federal Payroll Protection Program. More than 13,000 Capital Region businesses have received PPP loans that will convert to grants if the businesses meet job-retention guidelines.

“The federal programs were truly a lifeline,” said Mark Eagan, President and CEO of the Capital Region Chamber.

“I thought we were going to have more businesses close by this point,” Eagan said, recalling the mood of the near-lockdown imposed in March 2020. The casualties were mainly public-facing businesses that couldn’t adapt to new ways of doing business, he said, those that tried to do the same thing as always at a reduced tempo.

But many were able to overcome that hurdle, Eagan added.

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“Most of our businesses found ways to do business in different ways,” he said.

The challenge is not the complicated stuff of economic theory and currency management discussed in academic or regulatory settings, it’s individual business owners keeping the costs low enough and making or borrowing enough money to stay afloat.

There’s also an indispensable aspect of optimism — the belief that things will get better and they will be able to recoup some of their losses then.

“When they were starting to reopen, any number of them said they were losing money by being open, but they said they had to ‘or the customers will forget about us,’ ” Eagan recalled of his conversations with some of the Chamber’s 2,900 members.

The mass vaccination campaign that may end the pandemic once and for all comes at a good time, he said. The supply of money and optimism can’t last forever.

Eagan creates a relentlessly upbeat and optimistic impression on those he meets because that’s part of his job but also because that’s just who he is. But he’s felt it running short at times after the holidays.

A lot of people seem to have hit that same wall around the same time, Eagan said. Whether it’s called COVID fatigue or plain old weariness, there was a smothering sense in December and January that we’d lost all the progress we’d made in the spring and summer.

“This summer is going to feel a lot better,” Eagan said.

The caveat: “We don’t know what ‘normal’ is going to be.”

If places like Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Proctors, The Palace, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Saratoga Race Course can host only a fraction of their normal capacity of guests, they won’t be the magnets that draw business into downtowns that in recent decades have been significantly revitalized.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to take for a lot of those things to reopen,” Eagan said.

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

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