Apr 16, 2020 - Economy

The small businesses overwhelmed by the pandemic

Illustration of a cash register being tossed around in rough waves

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of small businesses are struggling — or even closing down entirely — not because business has died down, but because it's booming.

What's happening: Millions of U.S. small businesses have been forced to shut down due to restrictions on non-essential businesses or abysmal foot traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic. But even the small firms that have continued operations are shuttering because they're utterly overwhelmed by the spike in business as the pandemic plays out.

"They're trying to limp along because they've been deemed essential," says Beth Milito, senior executive counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business. "But finding staff willing and able to come in is challenging."

  • Dozens of laundromats across New York City have closed down either because they're too busy or because they're concerned about employees' health, reports The City.
  • Legendary New York food store Kalustyan's has closed for the first time in 75 years due to the high volume of orders it has been receiving.
  • Small trash collectors around the U.S. are dealing with larger-than-ever volumes of residential garbage. Republic Services, a waste management company with operations in several states, says it expects volumes to increase by 30% during the pandemic.
  • Many child care facilities that are open to care for the kids of health care workers and other essential staff are struggling to maintain required ratios between children and caretakers, and may be forced to close.
  • Small trucking and freight companies are seeing unprecedented demand for package delivery as the entire country shops from home, but they're also facing employee shortages as workers gravitate to the giants paying premium wages for tens of thousands of new truckers and warehouse workers.
  • Bodegas and small grocers who are fielding the same panicked, bulk shoppers as the big chains are often unable to restock their empty shelves as the food suppliers focus on keeping the Costcos and the Walmarts stocked, Milito says.

The bottom line: Even in booming industries, small businesses are in deep trouble.

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