CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the Lucky Chops took the stage Tuesday night at the Beachland Ballroom, it wasn’t the first time they tried to hold the show. It wasn’t even the second or the third time.
In fact, tickets for this show started selling in August 2019, Beachland Ballroom owner Cindy Barber said. It was scheduled for March 2020, then September 2020, then May of 2021 before getting postponed to 2022, when the Lucky Chops finally took the stage.
“This show is sort of like my litmus test,” Barber said the day of the show. “If it actually happens, there’s hope.”
Beachland Ballroom is one of many small businesses that still feels like it is on the brink. Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, progress has not been linear.
Whether it be surging cases, rising costs, lack of help or changing trends in the economy, businesses feel that they are in dire need. A Goldman Sachs survey of 1,466 small businesses that are part of the company’s 10,000 Small Businesses Voices program found that 82% want additional help from the federal government to help deal with the waves of financial stress. Beachland was among several area companies that took part in the Godman Sachs survey in mid-January.
According to the survey released Monday, 79% of businesses are concerned about the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and the omicron variant. Revenue has gone down for 71% of them and 37% had to scale back operations.
The labor shortage, supply-chain issues and inflation were the three most significant problems cited, according to Goldman Sachs.
The effects aren’t just in the hospitality business. L.C. Fluharty Construction, a firm that focuses on commercial construction, is also working hard to stay afloat.
“We have to watch every penny,” owner Chris Fluharty said.
The business is running at 50% to 60% of what it did pre-pandemic, he said. Some clients of his are holding off on projects and reevaluating their needs. Meanwhile, Fluharty is hit by rising costs.
Materials like lumber and copper ebb and flow but are much higher still than pre-pandemic levels.
Labor costs are higher and help is harder to find, both in the office and when it comes to subcontractors.
“I was hoping for some growth in 2020,” Fluharty said. “Now I’m hoping to hold on to the employees I have.”
Fluharty is hoping the federal government can get the supply-chain moving, even if its takes sending the national guard to get all the stock out of backed up ports. Another big help would be more Paycheck Protection Loans, he said. Right now he said he’s digging into his own pockets to keep up with costs.
Saying businesses are on the brink of closing is a fair assessment, he said.
“Do I think we’re going to lose some, absolutely,” Fluharty said. “Am I prepared to throw in the towel? No.”
Dallas Riffle, owner of advertising agency Dallas Riffle Media, said he’s been fortunate to pivot well during the pandemic. But he also supports helping the small businesses that are struggling.
What hurts his clients trickles down to his business.
When the pandemic first hit, his clients in the bar and restaurant industry shut down and paused advertising. When the chip shortage started, new car sales stalled, and those clients needed to slow down.
Riffle was working for a larger agency when the 2008 recession hit. He said he’s tried to diversify clients so he’d be safe from the pains that agency went through.
His main challenge has been finding people. Riffle said some positions have gone months without being filled. He and other businesses he speaks with through the Goldman Sachs group are being ghosted by candidates midway through the hiring process.
“For us that’s the only real barrier to us scaling the way we want too,” Riffle said. “We have been somewhat frustrated by finding the right talent.”
Riffle said his company used PPP loans in the past, but he thinks federal help needs to be directed to the businesses most closely affected by the pandemic. With the ebbs and flows his clients are seeing, his agency has had to turn on a dime to keep up.
Those ebbs and flows have sent Barber’s Beachland Ballroom business into a rough patch after it was close to being back-to-normal.
She said Beachland’s revenue was 15% to 20% shy of normal in October and November. In December omicron surged, and revenue went below the halfway mark.
This is while trying to deal with safety precautions, like requiring vaccinations and social distancing, honoring tickets from past shows, dealing with bands “canceling left and right” and being shut down for a long period of time.
She said people don’t seem to be as comfortable going out to a show or to eat as they used to.
Barber said many venues are operating at a 1% profit margin, living little wiggle room. Without more federal help, like tax incentives or workforce incentives, she says it will be difficult for hospitality businesses to keep going.
“We really are this main street backbone and we’re often times living with one or two months’ worth of capital to get through,” she said.
According to the Goldman Sachs survey, 82% of small businesses owners want to federal government to provide additional emergency financial assistance and 86% want the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program reinstated. That program expired at the end of 2021.
About one-third of owners said 2021 was more difficult than 2020.
The common thread between Beachland, L.C. Fluharty and Dallas Riffle Media is hoping improvements will start coming in 2022.
“I can’t even contemplate another year or two years of things going the way they are right now,” Fluharty said.
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