VENICE — Business leaders in Venice say members are coping with the coronavirus pandemic in a variety of ways.

Some are closing their doors temporarily while others are trying to remain open, at least partially with take-out or delivery service. It’s what lies ahead that is of more concern.

Two executives who represent the business community in the greater Venice area agree on this — prepare for a shelter-in-place order.

As late as Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he doesn’t want to issue that executive order.

But with policy and emergency safety measures changing sometimes hour by hour, Kathy Lehner, president and CEO of the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, and Kara Morgan, CEO of Venice MainStreet Inc., say the prudent thing for local businesses to do is prepare for it, and beyond.

“Do I think that’s coming, closures? It probably will happen. You can see the writing on the wall,” Lehner said.

“We have to prepare for that. There are still those businesses out there that will remain open, like grocery stores. Think of it as a rolling blackout, or a blizzard. Eventually, every one gets blocked in, but eventually it moves on,” Lehner said.

“I would definitely say, that’s coming down he road,” said MainStreet’s Morgan.

“Some of our businesses are still in shock. For some, a little bit of the shock has worn off. We’re definitely hunkering down, and seeing less and less traffic in the stores that are choosing to remain open,” Morgan said.

She estimates about 50% of local stores have already shut down fully or partially.

“Everyone is certainly waiting to see if the State of Florida will shelter in place,” Morgan said. “If that happens, a good portion of nonessential business will close temporarily until the shelter-in-place is lifted.”

Both the Chamber and MainStreet are now in close contact with members to gauge the effect the pandemic is having and how they can help.

The Chamber staff made 1,300 phone calls last week, to every single member, asking them to “tell us your status.”

MainStreet staff, too, are burning up the phone lines. Both are now working together to survey the membership, and put that information out to the public on who’s open and who’s not, what strategies are working and what innovations are taking place. MainStreet and Venice Area Chamber are placing the information on their web sites.

“The only way to keep up-to-date is digitally because it changes daily,” Lehner said.

“You hear a lot of mixed stories on who’s open and who’s not, some heart breaks,” Lehner said. “Toughest hit are the restaurants, and still we see what they are doing, see how they step up and help out. Some are offering their food to the local food bank. Some are giving it to their employees. Some are giving it to children. Some businesses are carrying on by doing take-out or delivery to keep at least some of their people employed.”

“Absolutely, businesses are laying off staff,” said Morgan. “We’re also seeing staff that were choosing not to go to work for their own health and safety. It’s hard for restaurants. Their livelihood depends on being at work.”

Some retailers, like Classic Creations jewelry, decided to close for an early vacation, giving their employees time to be at home.

“Classic Creations owner Evan Duke email blasted to his customers that he’s still available for jewelry repair. That’s pretty impressive, to be personally available to clients,” Lehner said.

Auto dealers are also looking closely at their clients. American Imports now advertises it will pick up your car repair it, and bring back to you.

“Everyone is trying to find a new way to do business,” Lehner said. “They’re having yoga online. Revolutionay Martial Arts is saying they’ll watch your kids for a nominal fee, like a day care, that will help get some kids moving.”

“It’s so tough on many. The James Griffith Salon also closed and put his folks on a two week vacation as a precaution,” Lehner said.

“The idea is to come back stronger later. We are going to come out of this,” she said. “I don’t know of anyone that has said, ‘I’m done.’

“This is going to end. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a good time to be preparing for that, so when we come out on the other side, businesses can hit the ground running,” Lehner said.


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