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Small businesses, big support
Locals cope with closed doors, get creative during health crisis
covid business story 1
Briana Maaske delivers curbside service to a customer March 20 at Corner Cafe in Monroe. Due to the most recent government mandates, Corner Cafe, as well as several other local businesses started offering curbside service. Owner Amy Maaske said she is thankful for the support and generosity. “We live in such a wonderful community,” she said. - photo by Brenda Steurer

MONROE — What is typically a bustling spring time in and around Monroe with heavy foot traffic for businesses looks quite different as the state works to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Local businesses are getting creative to find ways to stay afloat while following social distancing rules and others close down completely either by choice or because of state orders. 

Gov. Tony Evers ordered all bars and restaurants to close March 17, allowing no seating or eating inside but still allowed take-out and delivery options. That was the same day Evers banned gatherings of 10 people or more and extended the closure of all public and private K-12 schools indefinitely. 

Another announcement that came March 20 ordered hair salons, day spas, nail salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, body art establishments and tanning facilities to close.

Monroe Main Street Executive Director Jordan Nordby said he’s watched as things have changed quickly for downtown businesses, and he’s spent the majority of that time reacting to the news while providing support where he can. 

“Since then, we’ve been focused on assisting businesses to see what we can do to help,” Nordby said.

The downtown businesses are almost entirely independently and locally owned, essentially “mom and pop shops” that need support during this time.

“We want people to be healthy, but maybe not immediately jump and order online, because our smaller businesses will have a harder time weathering this,” he said, adding they are not suggesting people be careless with their health. 

Monroe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melissa Even said canceling the popular State Line Home and Business Expo was just the start of what was to come for the business community. From there, they watched as the size of groups allowed shrunk quickly. 

“That really changed the entire dynamic of all businesses,” she said. 

I think each business is doing the best they can. They want to do the right thing and they’re bending over backwards to do that.
Melissa Even, Monroe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director

The Chamber is working closely with businesses and the city, trying to get out correct, relevant information and answer questions to help guide them. 

“I think each business is doing the best they can,” she said. “They want to do the right thing and they’re bending over backwards to do that.”

What Even is seeing now is a great deal of local support. She said from big to small, businesses are working together. Some business owners who had to shut down have offered to deliver for others, and even big industries are participating, like Minhas, who announced on Facebook that they’re re-positioning distillery equipment to make hand sanitizer. 

“It’s unbelievable to see how they’re helping each other,” Even said.

Several businesses around town are doing small things, including Precision Drive Control in Monroe, which has a list of about 15 restaurants in rotation where they place lunch orders each day. 

PDC Sales System Administrator Dale Howarth said they have always periodically ordered lunches from local restaurants, but now have a daily schedule posted internally for any of their 40-50 employees to participate. They posted the schedule on their Facebook page to offer more restaurants who want to be added to the list the ability to send their menu. 

He said Monroe Truck and a few other businesses are doing similar things, but he hopes to challenge more, bigger businesses in Monroe to do the same. 

“We have the benefit of still working and it would be nice to give back to the community,” Howarth said.

covid business story 2
Dale Howarth of Precision Drive and Control picks up lunch for the office March 20 at Amy’s Corner Cafe in Monroe. PDC has a signup sheet for lunch and they choose a different location each day and take advantage of the curbside service so they can continue to support Monroe businesses. - photo by Brenda Steurer

Because of the size of many of the businesses, Nordby said, it isn’t as difficult for them to be extra cleanly and do things like sanitize the credit card machine and the doorknobs between shoppers. 

Amanda King, who has owned and operated Max’s Threads on the Square for the last seven years, is wondering if a large part of her business — offering tuxedos for proms and weddings — will fall off completely. She said she’s seeing a delay in new inventory and “a lot less foot traffic.”

“It’s kind of a ghost town,” she said March 20. “I don’t know what will happen.”

To weather the storm, King has started offering her new inventory on Facebook, allowing people to shop online. She offers delivery curbside and accepts payment there to allow people to make purchases but still feel comfortable. Depending on how long things last, she said she will likely look into creating a website for online shopping. 

However, she said that change would alter the dynamic of what she feels is most important at Max’s Threads.

“A big part of my business is my customer service. People want that one-on-one interaction,” she said. 

Moving forward, she understands that keeping people safe and healthy is the most important thing.

It’s kind of a ghost town. I don’t know what will happen.
Amanda King

“We all want to reach out to support each other, but it’s just as important to take care of yourself and your family,” King said. She only has one part-time employee, a high school student, however, the retail clothing business is her main source of income. 

She said she feels supported by both Monroe Main Street and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, who have been answering questions and offering up resources for grants and loans available to small businesses during this time. 

Even said despite the fact that some businesses have chosen to close, the future doesn’t look entirely grim. Because there is time expectation for how long the health crisis will last, it does weigh on the minds of small business owners. Most of them, she said, are worried about their employees.

“I think everybody in general is optimistic that we can work together to get through this,” she said. “But businesses are concerned.”

There is financial assistance available through the Small Business Administration. Even is learning more details and restrictions to pass along correct information to interested business owners. She is working with the City of Monroe to see how they can support the business community during this time.