CAMDEN, NJ — That most New Jersey businesses, including retail and food, are resuming under coronavirus regulations is a welcome sign but some - like William Can - are keeping things in perspective.
Can, 38, who frequents Camden for work and lives in Pennsauken, looks to Guatemala where his family resides for it.
“Esta muy feo por allá,” he told TAPinto Camden. “It’s very ugly over there.”
“From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. you cannot go out no matter what,” said Cann, who maintains contact with his family in Central America. “That complicates things for people who need to work. My sister there works at a bank, so she is an essential worker...but not everyone is so lucky.”
Can says in order to survive he had to dig into savings he had put aside to start his own construction company. It was demoralizing, but he counts his blessings over never testing positive for COVID-19, having had savings and finding work in the first place.
“It was slower in March, but now things are starting to get back to normal...hopefully it lasts,” he said.
Mayor Frank Moran said in a phone interview that jump starting the city economically won’t be as easy as flipping a switch. He called a Micro Business Emergency Assistance Program (MBEAP) the city opened applications for in April just one of many resources on the road to recovery.
“This is not going to make or break their business and we know that. Our solutions won’t be a one-shot deal as there are many challenges to confront,” Moran said. “Coming back gradually is a task and we have been working on comprehensive approaches from A-Z.”
The city is currently rolling out an executive order to allow restaurants to place tables and chairs outside of establishments - as indoor capacities remain capped at 25%. Closing designated roads in the city to allow the businesses to expand their footprint even further is also a possibility, Moran said.
“We’re an urban city and a lot of folks do take out, we’ve seen that continue whether you’re talking about Corrine’s, Donkey’s Place or San Lucas,” the mayor noted.
For barbershops, salons and other businesses that have been hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, Moran said the city is also eyeing promotional packages with help from Cooper’s Ferry Partnership. Also expected: a campaign to motivate residents to shop locally.
“Our businesses have historically been the spine of the city,” Moran said. “When Camden wasn’t at the level we are today, before the renaissance and rise we’ve had, they hung in there. They persevere over the tough years and we want to help those businesses to stay and prosper.”
Vincent Basara, spokesman for the city, noted that the MBEAP does not conflict with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s emergency program.
As corporate buildings become repopulated, Moran also hopes to encourage more local sourcing as well.
Taking stock of the picture
Ray Jones and Nichelle Pace, the president and vice president of the Camden Business Association (CBA) have been working even prior to the pandemic to draw an accurate picture of the state of Camden’s small business sector.
“The best thing businesses can do right now is to create a continuity of operation plan,” Jones said. “This emergency plan will make sure your policy is clear. If something traces back to your business, they will ask what did you do to prevent this? And this will come in handy for any situation outside of the pandemic too, [such as] as a fire, a snowstorm or a data breach.”
The CBA’s plans to fully realize their online portal has been impacted by the pandemic, Pace said, as it’s become more difficult for the non-profit organization to send workers to properly take stock of the city’s businesses. She says that picture would help ultimately funnel money to aid them post-pandemic but in the meantime other steps could be taken as well.
“Cleaning and properly sanitizing is so important for restaurants and businesses to be proactive about, as far as having the supplies to do so,” Pace said. “This is why they should refer to the CDC guidelines, which are up.”
The Camden Business Council, previously the Committed to Camden Committee, began helping micro and small businesses, as well as non-profits, in 2016. In light of the pandemic, the council, city partners, the CBA and others have regularly met virtually - offering regulatory lifelines that Camden business can use.
“The best advice I can give any business owner, regardless of industry, is to educate yourself, your employees and your customers on the guidelines being issued by the state,” said Christina Renna, President & CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, which has led the business council meetings.
“The more aware people are about the rules related to social distancing, face masks, gloves, sanitization and other industry-specific requirements the better prepared you are to open safely, create consumer confidence and avoid opening yourself up to liability,” she said.
Renna recommended businesses abide by the “One Jersey Pledge” - announced by Gov. Phil Murphy’s office earlier this month.
Owners will have access to reopening signage that acknowledges they have sanitation measures, proper training, personal protective gear for all staff and have vowed that anyone with symptoms will be required to stay home.
Along with the help it ordinarily makes available to Camden business owners and entrepreneurs, the Latin American Economic Development Association (LAEDA) has helped provide additional counseling during the outbreak.
Ray Lamboy, president & CEO of LAEDA, says a surge of calls came in as the pandemic worsened toward the end of March from residents in need of help seeking jobs and filling out unemployment forms.
Both Moran and Lamboy are part of the governor’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council taking on the economic impact of COVID-19 with the help of a local lens.
“Many of the people we spoke with from the city were the primary breadwinners in their household, so not being able to open up their corner store, salon or barbershop or being laid off meant the income immediately stopped,” said Lamboy.
He says in addition to services offered in both Spanish and English, the organization continues to add new programs. On Tuesday, it will launch its “Quick Start Series” - a 5-part series to teach participants the best practices for running a business.