What comes next?

Business owners grapple with tenuous future amid pandemic

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March 19, 2020 - 10:47 AM

Ben Alexander, owner of Southwind Cycle and Outdoor, said though business has slowed to a trickle he hopes people continue to get outdoors for their sanity and health. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

A walk along downtown’s Madison Avenue Wednesday helps tell the story of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Iola merchants both professionally and personally. 

Brooke Martin, a stylist at Salon Nyne, tends to Sheena Brubaker.
Madison Gean, Alex Mitchell and Allison Henkle of Town Square Tannery say they’ve received a few cancellations this week due to COVID-19 concerns. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
Ben Alexander, owner of Southwind Cycle and Outdoor, said though business has slowed to a trickle he hopes people continue to get outdoors for their sanity and health. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
Toni Manbeck and Kelli Sigg of Audacious Boutique Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
Shana Forsythe of Faith & Farm says business has stalled. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
Kristie Tavarez of KT Posh said she expects a downturn in business. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register
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“We haven’t had a customer in three days,” said Cheryl Zajic, sales clerk at Sophisticated Rose. “It’s awful.”

“I can’t blame people for not getting out,” she said. “But it breaks my heart.”

Elizabeth Ingle, owner of The Shirt Shop, said an order for shirts for a school’s golf team had recently been canceled and she expects more of the same.

“Business usually starts to pick up this time of year, but so far that hasn’t happened,” she said.

Ingle said she is releasing her nervousness about the new coronavirus through “stress cleaning, not stress eating.” 

“I did the console in my car and cupboards in my house. Usually I wish for some down time so that I can do such things. Now that I have it, I’m not sure I want it.”

Ingle said she worries about her husband, David, who is an officer with the Iola Police Department 

“I’m concerned about the exposure to others that his position puts him in,” she said, noting he had recently spent several hours at Allen County Regional Hospital helping someone.

She’s also bracing for homeschooling her son, Alex, a seventh-grader.

“He’s not going to like it, but I can take on the responsibility,” she said of the edict by Gov. Laura Kelly to close Kansas schools for the rest of the school year.

Local salons are beginning to see a downturn in business because of the coronavirus. 

At Town Square Tannery and Salon Nyne, customers have called in to cancel appointments citing the COVID-19 virus.

“It hasn’t been as bad as I thought,” said Kim Folk, owner of Salon Nyne. Stylist Brooke Martin said most of her cancellations have been by school teachers.

The nail salon Ele’ Nails has a sign on its front door stating it will remain closed until Sunday on the advice of the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department.

Joelle Shallah of Bella Donna Salon said the state Department of Health and Environment may order barber shops and salons to temporarily close. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did,” Shallah said, noting such edicts have been issued in Nevada, Minnesota and Ohio.

With all high school proms and other school events canceled, Kristie Tavarez of KT Posh salon said “we’ll miss that business, for sure.”

KELLI Sigg, owner of Audacious Boutique, said the cancellation of high school prom and graduation hurts in a number of ways. 

First it impacts her tuxedo rental business through Jim’s Formal Wear.

Second, the cancellation of events, including Easter church services, impacts her sale of dresses. 

Sigg also notes their emotional toll. 

“I know what those memories mean,” she said, noting she and her husband Steve, “my date to prom,” still look fondly at pictures that recall those high school memories. 

“I know in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, but I feel sorry for our young people who are going to miss out on things like that. 

“There’s not a parent around that’s not feeling that loss for their children,” she said. 

Sigg notes that the economic downturn from the plummeting price of oil is also affecting Steve, who works for M&M Equipment, an oil and gas pipeline supply dealership headquartered in Great Bend. 

“The price of oil is so low that it doesn’t even pay the electric bill to run the pump,” Sigg said. On Wednesday the price of oil was at an 18-year low, selling for $20.06 a barrel. 

Across the street at Faith & Farm, owner Shana Forsyth remarked on how quickly business had fallen off. 

“Business was starting to pick up after February. It was nice. Then suddenly, there’s no one coming in our doors,” she said. “Now I’m afraid we’ll be told we have to close.”

Forsyth’s inventory is varied, including household items, shoes and boots, clothing and jewelry,  and religious-based books and gifts. 

Only open since last June, Forsyth said she’s hoping gifts for upcoming graduations will help bring people in the door, noting their Bibles and stainless steel water bottles are popular. 

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