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COVID19 pandemic hitting local businesses hard

A DIY workshop at Restoration Alley in Ellisville (Source: Jennah Jahn)

These are uncertain and even scary times we live in. The rapid spread of the COVID19 virus to a worldwide pandemic seems more like the plot of a Hollywood thriller rather than our new norm.

In St. Louis County, nearly every aspect of life has been touched in one way or another by the pandemic.

As national, state and local officials take steps to try to “flatten the curve” and control the spread of the virus, daily life and livelihood has been interrupted for many. While those in Washington, D.C., debate bailouts for big corporations, local businesses here in St. Louis County are under immense pressure.

“I’ve only been open a year and a half and I’m not sure if my little store can even make it through this,” Jennah Jahn told West Newsmagazine.

Jahn is the owner of Restoration Alley DIY Studio and Handmade Market. Her business is located at 15626 Manchester Road in Ellisville. While she said there have been some online sales since the local restrictions began more than a week ago, but much of what Restoration Alley has to offer can’t be transferred to online sales or delivery.  

“It’s important for our customers to come in, mainly for our DIY workshops,” Jahn said. “Those are all about the experience and gathering with friends and family to learn new skills while having fun.”

Closing the doors at Restoration Alley doesn’t just impact Jahn and her family, but also the families of the businesses whose goods fill her store.

“My store is full of handmade and boutique merchandise from over 40 local business owners,” Jahn said.

She said the best way the community can support small businesses like hers to think forward for the time after the pandemic ends and restrictions are lifted.

“Right now, the community can support us by buying gift cards to use for future workshops or in-store purchases, shopping our selection of online products and by jointing us for Facebook live workshops and crafts,” Jahn said.

Jahn’s story is a narrative being told throughout the region during these troubling times.

Tracy Contreras is a hairdresser at Shear Design, a hair salon located at 16451 Village Plaza View Drive in Wildwood. She recently was told the salon would be closed for 30 days due to concerns with the COVID19 outbreak.

“I am an independent contractor which means if I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” Contreras said. “I am grateful and blessed all of my clients are calling and checking in on me and seeing what they can do to help during these difficult times.”

While Contreras admits the road ahead will be a major challenge, she is trying to stay positive and find ways to save money at the same time.

“Even though I am not being paid, I will say I am enjoying time with my children and quality time with my mother,” Contreras said, noting that she and her kids are staying with her mother and enjoying the homecooked meals and not eating out. “This shows how your faith can really make a difference when times are difficult.”

When the travel and social distancing restrictions are lifted, Contreras is looking forward to taking care of her clients again and she’s betting they’ll be happy to see her as well.

“Even if they might have a mullet or a ponytail … I do appreciate all of my clients that are willing to wait and not try and cut their hair themselves,” Contreras said.

Long-time family businesses in the area are not immune to the damage being done by COVID19. Alex and Shelly Nicozisin are the owners of Westway Cleaners, a family-owned dry cleaning business with four locations in St. Louis County.

“We are staying open with just the four family members running the store,” Shelly Nicozisin said, noting they reluctantly had to lay off all their employees.

Westway Cleaners has been around for 60 years, but like so many other small businesses they might not survive the economic blows being delivered by the COVID19 crisis. Nicozisin said they’ve reduced their business hours and are doing their best to be there for their customers. But she admitted that they’re “struggling.”

Custom Alternations in Valley Park
(Source: Peggy Feldt)

Unfortunately, the news isn’t much better for Peggy Feldt. She’s the owner of a small alterations shop in Valley Park called Custom Alterations. For her business, the COVID19 pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worst time.

“This is the start to our busy season,” Feldt said, noting her business specializing in alterations for wedding and prom gowns, as well as other formal attire. “We have totally shut down.”

Feldt said she closed out of concern for the health and well-being of both herself, her employees and her customers. Even though she has never been through anything like this in 47 years in business, she doesn’t waiver on her decision.

“Family and health are more important than anything,” she said.

And in these challenging times, Feldt is proudly leaning on her faith to help get her through.

“With God anything is possible,” she said.

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