Sick Workers and Spooked Customers: Coronavirus Threatens Small Businesses

For Asian-American-owned businesses, there is an additional risk: discrimination. Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat from Southern California, said Asian-owned businesses in her district had reported a 50 percent drop in business, driven by “dangerous misinformation and xenophobia.”

Wesley Kang, a founder of Nimble Made, a New York-based start-up that makes men’s dress shirts and promotes Asian-American representation in fashion, said xenophobia, coupled with the fact that manufacturing and shipping partners in China were closed, were hurting the fledgling business.

In some cases, public alarm is affecting small businesses even where there is no widespread outbreak or official guidance to stay inside.

At Chuckie Pies, a pizza restaurant in Lake Oswego near the school where the patient with Covid-19 worked, business was down 25 percent on Saturday, said Lisa Shaw-Ryan, the co-owner. Business was also slower at her nearby coffee shop.

If the slowdown continues for too long or gets worse, she said, they could go out of business. “Bigger companies potentially have more resources or other businesses that aren’t being affected and can balance that out,” she said. “It’s potentially devastating for us. Solid information that isn’t fear-driven is very helpful.”

Patrick Day, who runs two board game stores in King County, Wash., the site of the largest U.S. outbreak of the disease, said his business had very little slack to absorb reduced foot traffic or staffing shortages. The company’s profit margin is only 2 percent in a good year, he said. Most nights, his stores host board game tournaments that can draw nearly 100 players, but he said that business had already begun declining this week, after local cases of the disease were announced.

“If we have a few days out for snow, that can be pretty tough, but snow lasts, at worst, for a week,” said Mr. Day, who shares ownership of Uncle’s Games with two partners. “If we have to go longer than that, we’d need to figure out a way to get outside financing to stay afloat.”

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