COVID-19 NC Impact Stories
One week ago, Coronavirus seemed like a distant problem to me. It was impacting other countries, other cities, it wouldn’t happen here. Don’t get me wrong. I was alarmed at what was happening elsewhere, but my logic was that it would be figured out before it could become a problem here.
One week ago … it feels like one year ago, and that self that made all those naive assumptions is a person I no longer recognize, and quite frankly I’m a little embarrassed about her lack of understanding.
In one week, the business my husband and I put everything on the line for, is being forced to change in shape, and purpose. Its economic future will at the very best be stalled and we’ll take two steps back for a bit – but no doubt we’ll have a black eye at the end of this.
We own a craft cidery, taproom and restaurant. Before Coronavirus, our trajectory was up. We were adding a second location, preparing for the Grand Opening in just a few weeks. Our first taproom and restaurant were emerging from what is always a slow January and February, and getting ready to celebrate its fourth anniversary. That was one week ago.
Here’s the problem:
Now we are examining how many employees we can keep and for how long. Some employees are asking to be laid off, preparing to receive unemployment benefits available to them. Thankfully, there is help available for them, and will continue to be. I know that unemployment payments will not equal what they’ve been making, but there is assistance for them, and there are plans in place from lawmakers for more. I am glad for that, and more thankful that our employees who are all aware of the situation have been gracious and understanding.
We are expanding package sales and putting plans in place for a delivery service. Will this lessen the blow? It’s like putting a cotton ball between us and a large fist about to punch us in the face, but it makes me feel like we’re doing something.
But who is doing something for us? The small business owners who operate businesses where social non-distancing are a part of our business model. Our taproom goes ‘round when it’s packed and thumping with an awesome band or Drag Show. I began asking the question last week. What help is there for businesses like ours? The answer – a Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration. We applied for that this weekend, because a low-interest loan will be something. But asking businesses like ours to go deeper in debt for the greater good of public health is not a fair proposition. It’s an unfunded mandate. We need grants … something that doesn’t keep its thumb on us once we’re allowed to open our doors. I understand SBA Disaster Loans for businesses have a long tradition in this country when hurricanes hit, natural disasters, acts of God. This is different. We’ve been enlisted (and rightfully so) to adapt and shutter our businesses for the greater good of public health.
So yes, we want free money. It’s not a foreign proposition to our government who have given bailouts to automakers, the airline industry, the list goes on.
But for some reason, they’re not thinking about the fact the craft beverage industry will need its own bailout. (To be clear, restaurants will need this as well, but I’m going to stick to what I am deeply familiar with).
Why should you care?
Because we (craft breweries and cideries) have become the defacto town square – the meeting place for families and friends to play games, gather, a place for dogs to run …. and we will not be here as an industry when our world emerges from this crisis.
And it’s more than just giving you a place to have some fun.
North Carolina breweries generate $2.5 billion dollars in economic impact a year, according to the Brewer’s Association. The number of breweries in this state has more than tripled since 2011. They employ thousands.
My husband and I are lucky in some ways. We have a strong and mutually beneficial partnership with our distributors. We have the ability to ramp up packaged product because we own our own canning line. We are already in multiple grocery store chains across our distribution states. We have built a brand that I believe will survive this. But understand, not everyone is that lucky. Margins in the craft beverage industry are slim. Many of the smallest breweries and cideries rely almost completely on taproom sales. Others have signed life-long distributor contracts that create a losing proposition for them in times like these.
I’ve seen plenty of goodwill and effort from the public to support businesses like ours. People are encouraging take out, and package sales – even social posts reminding communities how often craft breweries and cideries have hosted pint nights that benefit a charity, or donated gift cards to a good cause. (Which is a valid point). Please keep doing this, and we’ll keep working to innovate and make our products easier for you to get. But we need you to do something else. As you’re rallying for help from federal and state governments, RALLY FOR US. Tell lawmakers loans are not enough for breweries, cideries and restaurants.
If you do and they listen, we’ll see you on the other side.
If we’re not successful, you’ll see us shuttered in your town. All those derelict buildings we revitalized in recent years, turning sleepy downtowns into renewed hubs – they’ll be empty again if you don’t.
Stephanie Carson is a corporate video producer and journalist in North Carolina. In her spare time, she helps her husband with his hard cidery and serves as a “Ski Mom” to her two daughters who race competitively.