Local Business Survey Reveals Grim Outlook
By Mary Alice Scott, Portland Buy Local
Every month, I sit down to write an article for The West End News and consider what’s most pressing or relevant to local businesses at the time. For big holidays and events, the theme is easy. In March of this year, I started reaching out to business owners to see if they would be interested in writing guest columns to add different voices and sectors. Covid forced me to quickly rescind those offers.
Instead, I now focus on the vast impact the pandemic was – and still is – having on our local business community.
It’s hard to believe that this is month five of the coronavirus crisis. Still there is no clear path forward.
Many businesses have found a way to safely re-open and serve their customers, but the nature of the pandemic means that businesses can only serve a fraction of the customers they previously did.
We conducted a survey in mid-July and asked local business owners to assess their current needs. Our findings were grim. The survey made it clear that businesses need long-term support if we want our community to remain vibrant.
One-third of respondents in our survey said they are generating 20% or less of typical revenues, with another 20% of businesses generating 40% or less of their typical revenues. And yet fixed costs remain stable.
Also, the expense of maintaining a commercial space remains an unresolved part of the crisis.
The top three concerns facing local businesses are (in order):
- Keeping their community healthy
- Having to close down again
- Paying commercial rent/mortgage
Commercial rents in Portland are notoriously high – often $10,000+ a month – and landlords are offering rent relief on an inconsistent basis. Only 11% of the businesses who took our survey said they got commercial rent relief through their landlord.
Without a national plan to limit the spread of the virus, and without long-term financial support for commercial rent or other fixed costs, business owners are stuck. They have opened their businesses, with a fraction of their typical revenue, in order to continue paying for commercial leases.
It’s astounding that 25% of businesses in our survey said they were considering permanently closing. It’s hard to imagine our downtown with a quarter of the storefronts empty. But right now, it’s a real possibility.
Mary Alice Scott is Portland Buy Local Executive Director.
Discloser: Publisher Tony Zeli is president of the board of directors and a media partner.