One downtown restaurant is on the cusp of closing its doors due to the slowdown of business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while another two are finding new ways to combat the financial difficulties.
Café Brulé, a Main Street restaurant, is struggling financially during the age of COVID-19. After celebrating being open for a little over a decade, co-owner Monica Iverson said she is wary of what the future might hold for the business.
“I hope that we will be here forever,” Iverson said. “We just celebrated 11 years, and we hope to keep that going, but honestly, it’s just going to depend on what happens. If business stays like it has this weekend (Aug. 29-30), it’ll be tough to make it.”
The pandemic has forced the restaurant to make changes in their day-to-day operations — including closing the restaurant for a while. Iverson said the restaurant was closed for at least six weeks and took over a 70% cut in revenue during that time.
“Business definitely took a big dive,” Iverson said. “We were doing deliveries, takeout and curbside pickup, which was something we’d never done before. We made some money, but we still only made about 30% of what we made before.”
The Tigert Art Gallery on Main Street, managed by Rob Tigert, is also finding it difficult to make a profit during the pandemic.
“Let’s just say I’m not making any money,” Tigert said. “I sell nothing you need. I’m not Amazon, or Walmart or the big box stores where they’re making record profits. Instead, small businesses are hurting.”
Another local business The Bean, owned by Martin Prendergast and Leslie Gerrish, had to be flexible and make changes to keep their staff, customers and community safe during the pandemic, which in turn affected them financially.
“It’s definitely been a change, it’s been a drop-in business,” Prendergast said. “We have certainly been seeing numbers lower, a lot lower than last year, and obviously the time when we were closed, we weren’t making any money.”
When students returned to campus, businesses in downtown Vermillion, like Café Brulé and The Bean, saw a rise in customers. However, Iverson said an email sent to all students by the university negatively impacted many restaurants on Main Street.
The email was sent by the president’s office asking students to avoid frequenting any downtown establishment that has not made changes to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
“I think they were trying to prevent students from coming to the downtown bars, but I think what happened was that (students) also just quit coming downtown in general,” Iverson said.
If the COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Iverson said she is afraid students will be sent home and her restaurant will continue to struggle financially.
“I think that this is a very difficult situation,” Iverson said. “There are some businesses that did close their doors — Red Steakhouse was one that we lost. We are trying to come out of it, but if the students leave now, it will hurt us a lot.”
While the financial security of many downtown businesses has been on a decline since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prendergast said, many shops and restaurants like The Bean have priorities beyond trying to keep their businesses open.
“Until we have a vaccine or a course of treatment for this disease, we will not be opening up and we will stay closed (indoors),” Prendergast said. “Our only goal is to keep our staff safe, ourselves safe, and our community safe, and if that means closing our doors, we will do that.”