Gilbert businesses work to stay afloat during coronavirus pandemic

HomeGoods, coronavirus
Empty parking lots were a sure sign of business' troubles during the coronavirus pandemic. (Isabella Short/Community Impact Newspaper)

Empty parking lots were a sure sign of business' troubles during the coronavirus pandemic. (Isabella Short/Community Impact Newspaper)

As with much of the nation, Gilbert business owners are struggling to stay afloat while their customers hunker down at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many have had to lay off staff, like Dave Rindfleisch of local commercial printing company International Minute Press of Gilbert, where business is down 50%, he said. Rindfleisch said his five workers can make more money staying at home after applying for government unemployment assistance than they can from working for him during the pandemic. He has only kept on a graphic designer who works remotely.

“I am a fortunate owner where I can run all the machinery,” he said. “I am doing it myself.”

He said he has changed hours, closing two hours earlier each day.

“You just change your ways,” he said. “You learn how to keep things more sanitized. You’re more careful with the 6-feet rule—and don’t trust the government.”

Kim Yonda-Lead said she is now the only person working her store, Wrapped With Ribbon, which just opened in September. But the widespread closures have halted her plans to hire a worker, and she has closed her store doors and moved online for now.

“We did not have a strong online presence before, and people are still finding us,” she said. “It’s definitely been a time of change and the time for us to adapt.”

Like many restaurants, she said she has moved to curbside pickup and contactless delivery.

Alternative means

Some businesses have pivoted within the realm of what they do to help the community.

For example, Panda Libre, a Mexican-Asian fusion fast-casual restaurant, tried meal prep packages, then turned to offering wholesale goods to customers.

O.H.S.O. Brewery & Distillery, with a location in the Heritage District, was forced to lay off 75% of its workforce. But soon after Banner Health approached Operations Manager Adam Davis about using its distilling capabilities to make hand sanitizer for Banner’s medical facilities.

“I got with my team on it,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘Well guys, I think we need to reassess the conversation we had three weeks ago about producing hand sanitizer [for customer use] and instead of doing it for the general public right now, I think we need to do what's right and support the doctors and nurses that are out in the front line, that are treating patients regardless of what they're treating patients for. They need it, and we have to do it.’ So it really wasn't a question of should we or shouldn't we. It was an answer of let's get it done.”

Chamber activities

Networking has also become important to businesses as they look for resources, information and ways to stay afloat through the pandemic.

The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce has opened a series of social media pages and has begun working with elected leaders and organized conference calls for small business to spread information.

“We realized we needed to turn on a dime, stop everything we were doing before and really be the resource for the business community,” Chamber President and CEO Kathy Tilque said. “And that's what we've done.”

Part of that response was the weekly conference call that drew between 100 and 200 businesses on Wednesday mornings. The calls came from a partnership between the town and the chamber.

Tilque built an agenda for the meetings, the chamber staff and the Gilbert Economic Development team arranged for speakers and Mayor Jenn Daniels moderated the events.

After the calls, the organizers would break down what questions they heard and what they would need to research and present back to businesses.

Tilque sounds an optimistic note for businesses and the community on the other side of the pandemic.

“We’re going to be a stronger community than we’ve ever been because we’ve had to stop and rethink our current business models,” she said. “Some of the things we’ve wanted to do to be more virtual we’ve been forced to do that now. From that perspective, businesses are going to be more efficient. People are going to be more kind to one another because we realize how important it is. With the physical and social distancing, when we don’t have to do that anymore, we’re going to appreciate it. We just have to get through it, right?”
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.