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How some Richmond businesses are surviving through COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 6:36 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 18:36:16-04

RICHMOND, Va., — Businesses and restaurants in Richmond’s up-and-coming neighborhood have been forced to adapt in order to stay operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association hosted a virtual meeting on Wednesday via Zoom with business owners who have managed to keep afloat.

Mike Ledesma, owner of Perch on West Broad Street, described the last three weeks operating his restaurant as a “whirlwind.”

“My analogy is if you’re in a really deep ocean and there’s a big wave and if you struggle — then you’re going to drown,” Ledesma explained.

The Perch dining room is closed and his kitchen staff serve food through take-out.

“We furloughed a third of our employees and we were employing about 41 at the time,” Ledesma said.

Sandi Cano, owner of TURN Cardio Jam Studio, moved her fitness classes from her West Moore Street fitness studio to online.

“We had to find better streams, better audio quality, what can we do to troubleshoot,” Cano explained. “How can I take my product and shift into this new need? Which is different for a small business.”

Will and Elle Correll applied for a delivery license through Virginia ABC when social distancing obligations forced them to close the Buskey Cider tasting room on West Leigh Street.

“We actually always had the ability to obtain the license to deliver,” Elle Correll stated. “Never thought we would need to deliver because we have good distribution channels and people come to the tasting room.”

Nearly 99 percent of Dominion Payroll’s staff are all working remotely during the pandemic, according to Director of Community Engagement Kevin Wilson. The business moved its headquarters to Rockbridge Street in 2017.

They’ve assembled a 35-member COVID-19 Triage Team to understand Department of Labor guidelines and new legislation passed by lawmakers.

“So we can understand it best and understand it to our clients. Since March 13, we’ve done roughly 20 webinars and they’re open to the public. We know our business will thrive when the community thrives. So, we want to make sure our businesses can employ people on the other side of this,” Wilson explained.

All have enhanced their online presence in order to appeal to more clients.

Richmond Councilwoman Kim Gray said restaurants and their patrons contribute $47 million to the city budget through the meals tax.

“We will be in a serious crisis if we can’t offer assistance to the restaurant industry,” Gray said. “It’s critical they are kept as viable as humanly possible through this crisis.”

The 2nd District council representative has planned to present resolutions aimed at rebating restaurants for funds spent on taxes and licenses.

In a letter addressed to City Council, Mayor Levar Stoney said his administration will present amendments to the previously proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year during a presentation on April 13, 2020.

“The mayor believes restaurants are a huge part of why Richmond thrives, and that we must do everything we can to support and empower them,” city spokesman Jim Nolan said in a statement.

The Richmond Economic Development Authority created the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program, which will offer interest-free emergency loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses within city limits.

City officials said the maximum loan amount for the program is six months of current employee wages or $20,000, whichever is less. The loan payments will be disbursed over six months.

Nolan said that the city administration is also “working with city council to put forward a tax amnesty paper that would waive penalties and interest on any late tax payments for the remainder of this fiscal year.”