Local Businesses Adjusting to Life in COVID-19 World

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – As COVID-19 cases began trickling into the region, local businesses have been forced to make adjustments.

Some businesses have been deemed non-life-sustaining, meaning they have had to adjust to working remotely, while others, while considered life-sustaining, have still had to make different arrangements.

Katheren Simpson said the shutdown is hitting small business owners hard.

“My fiance was forced to close his tattoo shop down in Brookville,” Simpson said. “That’s his only source of income. The uncertainty of when the small businesses can open back up is hitting these small business owners hard.

“Many won’t be able to survive this, and business owners work hard and take pride in what they established.”

Dave Bennett, the plant manager at NCA Carbon, in Punxsutawney, is in charge of a business that is deemed life-sustaining.

NCA Carbon sells and provides raw materials (carbon and graphite blocks) to life-sustaining companies that make, among other things, steel and aluminum, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t changed for the plant.

“Some jobs you have to work in a crew, but at all possible we are trying to have safe distances between our workers,” Bennett said. “We are also providing education and material on how to combat it and guard yourself. We have also tried with some of our departments to rotate shifts, so people aren’t overlapping as much. There is an incredible amount of stuff that goes into it.

“These are trying and interesting times for everyone.”

Matt Best, of Best Wealth Management, said, “You lose the face-to-face interaction, which is really important in my world.”

Best owns his own Ameriprise Financial location in Shippenville that has been deemed to be non-life-sustaining.

“We can still use various platforms to do online meetings, but the problem is I need to learn how to do it, getting it to then work, and having the client do the same thing. It’s not just as easy as you hop on and do Skype, at least not as opposed to sitting down face-to-face with someone.”

Best said there have been some unexpected issues that have arisen from working at home.

“Working from home has increased some expenses,” Best said. “There is ink and paper that we used in the office that now has to be used also at home for all of us.”

Sheri Maxwell, the owner of The CBD Store, in Seneca, is worried about her customers.

“We had to shut the store down,” Maxwell said. “I am worried about our customers, and money is very tight.

“But, we are blessed that we have the necessities and our health. I just hope this ends soon.”

Some area businesses have also had to layoff workers.

“Everybody from our Showcase Homes side we had to layoff,” Brian Burford, of Burford & Henry Real Estate Service and Showcase Homes, said. “That was four hourly employees and two salespeople who earn a salary plus commission.”

Burford said the real estate end of the business (with the office located in Shippenville) is a little unique because the agents are independent contractors.

“We do have people still needing housing, but we aren’t classified as emergency or necessary,” Burford said. “But, people still need rentals or houses. They might have sold their house. They might have been in the process of moving here from somewhere else. So, you have to find a unique way to address that necessity. It is an evolving situation, and things are changing day-by-day with what we can and can’t do. We have been in constant contact with Pennsylvania and national real estate associations.”

Right now, Burford said the company’s website becomes its main tool.

“Our website is still up and running,” Burford said. “That is the silent seller for us. We don’t need brick and mortar. A lot of our inquiries come in late at night.”

Oil City’s Mayor Bill Moon, who operates an office for Gates & Burns Realty in Oil City, said times are tough for his business.

“It’s not working very well,” Moon said. “You can’t show any houses, and clients can’t come into the office. You have to do it remotely. People are just hunkering down and not going out or doing anything. It has been very quiet. We are just answering questions.”

Moon said they manage some rentals, but they aren’t even able to show those rentals.

“If someone needs assistance with housing right now, I would suggest they call and see if the county can help,” Moon said. “Get ahold of County Human Services and see what they can provide.”

Moon said one of the major issues facing real estate companies is the inability to meet people in person and thus, even people buying homes need to do things remotely with things like DocuSign and wire transfers.

“(Friday) the governor finally approved remote notary,” Moon said. “That was a big hold up because no one could get anything notarized.”

Moon said the impact it will have on the real estate market is enormous.

“Last year, we had our best year since 2007,” Moon said. “It was going that way again this year until this it. It’s going to be tough for a while.”

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