Help Was Made Available to NJ Retailers — Will it be Enough?
Tuesday marks one month since non-essential retail businesses in New Jersey were ordered to close their doors to customers, in response to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Industry experts fear the longer this shutdown continues, the more vacant storefronts we'll see along New Jersey's roads whenever the health crisis subsides — even with help that's been offered already through the federal government.
"I think that whatever help they get will be slow," said Robert Scott, professor of economics at Monmouth University. "Is it really going to be enough to keep them afloat? For a lot of businesses, it won't be."
A little more than two weeks after the federal CARES Act was signed into law, the Small Business Administration announced it would no longer be taking applications for the Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan related to the COVID-19 outbreak due to a lapse in funding.
Those who were able to take advantage of the PPP can have loans forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for costs such as rent and utilities.
"The longer this goes on, the more debt you're going to take on," Scott said of retailers. "Any business that's been struggling ... they're obviously the ones most at risk."
New Jersey retailers are permitted to continue operations online — an easier task for those who already had an online presence established before COVID-19 hit the United States.
Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, professor of marketing at Rutgers School of Business-Camden, said retailers with a loyal clientele and a strong set of reserves should have the wherewithal to outlast the state-mandated closure. An online presence, either through social media or a website, can be key when face-to-face interaction is next to impossible.
"I think that one of the main points is to retain the communication," said Kaufman-Scarborough said. "Pick a small part of what your customers might really miss or enjoy, and reach out to them to see if there's a way that either a delivery or pickup option might work."
This approach may be a saving grace, she added, for seasonal shops that are not yet sure how COVID-19 will impact summer 2020.
Kaufman-Scarborough suggested business owners, experienced or inexperienced, would be surprised to learn how much information is available in the wake of this crisis. The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, for example, is inviting locals to a "small business resource center" scheduled for April 23, featuring the head of the state labor department and the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
The current survival process is not something any business owner could have ever anticipated when opening their retail establishment. For most, they had a passion, and learned what was necessary to hire employees and keep the customers coming back.
Patrali Chatterjee, chair of Montclair State University's marketing department and graduate coordinator of the university's digital marketing program, noted inexperienced owners may have to hire one or more experts to guide them through this process. And that means more money going out the door.
"It takes a lot of tenacity and a lot of sheer skill to compete in the competitive environment today," Chatterjee said. "This particular crisis is going to push them to the extreme. This might be overwhelming for many business owners."
Chatterjee said the current crisis is also forcing owners to "rethink their own business." Chatterjee reinforced the importance of maintaining a relationship with customers during a public health emergency.