Holladay business survey shows the struggle of local companiesFeb 03, 2021 10:24AM ● By Zak Sonntag
Mudita Yoga studio sits empty amidst reduced hours. (Photo courtesy Carrie Coppola)
By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]
Local businesses in Holladay continue to toil against depleted revenues and diminished operating capacity while striving to adapt business models to the harsh economic environment produced by the still-menacing coronavirus pandemic, according to a new business survey released to the public in January.
The survey, commissioned by the city and conducted by Y2 Analytics, helps community leaders understand the struggles facing local business and offers direction for the city as it seeks to prop up local companies in the hopes of staving off bankruptcy and job loss in a city known for its unique commercial makeup.
The survey confirmed many anticipated worries while also providing a sense of how challenges have changed for businesses since the last survey one year ago in 2019. As expected, a majority of companies polled expressed difficulty making payroll and rent.
“Most business said they’re experiencing large to moderate negative impact from COVID,” said staff leader Holly Smith, who worked closely on the survey.
“Revenue is notably reduced, and many are still experiencing reduced operating hours. Operating capacity is also diminished because of physical distancing [and related factors],” Smith said.
The survey revealed that companies are making adjustments to accentuate their remote operations and online offerings in an attempt to adapt. Although the changes are harder to make seamless in some industries than others.
Mudita Yoga, a wellness studio in Holladay, has been ravaged by the loss of face-to-face clientele, as the requirements for physical distancing and consumer fear about shared space during a pandemic has depleted patronage to low levels.
“People are still afraid to come out. We’ve dropped our schedule to less than half. We’re doing online classes now, but it’s very different feeling than in person especially for what we do in yoga,” said Carrie Coppola, owner of Mudita.
According to the survey, a host of companies in Holladay are finding similar struggles. According to Smith, “Our hardest hit sectors are the personal services—restaurants and salons, child day care and doggy day care services—these are face to face settings that cannot switch to online or adapt as well.”
The survey indicated that the No. 1 priority for businesses is getting assistance making payroll and rent. For Mudita Yoga, a nine-year-old business that moved from Millcreek to Holladay right as the pandemic swept across the state in the spring, the fear of making rent has become existential.
“I haven’t been able to make my rent for one month. It’s so hard right now. I’ve never not been able to do that and it makes me heartbroken. I don’t know if we’re going to make it through,” she said.
Mudita has received some small business stimulus assistance through Salt Lake County, who administers CARES Act funding, which has helped her business stay afloat for now. However, that money has dried up and the pandemic’s toll doesn’t seem to be letting up yet.
“I had no idea how impactful this would be on us and the length of time. I don’t think it’s going to be back to normal for a while,” Coppola said.
The survey reveals that most businesses have applied for and received federal aid through the county, while others have been fortunate to receive additional support through Holladay City, which distributed $85,000 to local businesses since the spring, mostly to cover the cost of PPE, like hand sanitizer and face masks.
Yet, with the first round of stimulus spending drying up, businesses are sitting with high anxiety. Economists promote stimulus measures to help companies like Mudita stay afloat during downturns, arguing that the cost to communities and the middle-class economy is greater if small businesses are allowed to go under.
The city is currently working on proposals to help local companies through 2021. The proposals are being tailored to the needs indicated in the business survey. Yet, some of the needs of small business are not easily addressed by a city like Holladay with a small staff and minute administrative capacity.
The survey shows that many local companies want help with marketing, promotional programs and online support to ensure they stay connected with clientele and adapt to the new standards of physical isolation. But the city expressed reservations about the wisdom of focusing assistance efforts in that area.
“I’m a little bit concerned about stuff like website development and marketing promotion. We don’t have that expertise. If we can get direct assistance to our residence that’s fantastic. But some of these needs might require a lot of overhead to administer,” said Paul Fotheringham, councilman from District 3.
Yet there is no one-size-fits-all approach, which is another difficultly in trying to administer aid.
“Anything at all can help. But I don’t know how much I’d want to see aid going toward marketing when we’re still in crisis mode. Help us with our rent and expenses, and help us get vaccinated, and then help us market,” said Mudita owner Coppola.
Additionally, leaders must weigh support for the business community against the everyday needs of residents, including those who are struggling to make living rent.
“I think it’s hard because you’ve got a flip-side—you can put the money into developing and promoting business and encouraging people to spend money in local business, but you might have families that are unable to make rent,” said councilwoman Sabrina Petersen, suggesting the city may have to make tough choices with limited resources.
City manager Gina Chamness is currently drafting proposals for assistance that will likely include a mix of grant funding for local business along with rental assistance for families. Chamness will propose aid programs to the city council in February.
Beyond direct assistance, the city has other powers at its disposal that may help local business weather the storm. For instance, some restaurants have petitioned the city for extended patio dining permits. Copper Common and 3 Cups coffee shop, as an example, attempted to get permits to use city property in the Holladay Village Plaza for extended outdoor dining. The city was unable to reach an agreement with the restaurants, albeit.
Similarly, Real Taqueria on Murray-Holladay Road, applied for patio dining permit.
“We are trying to make the additional outdoor dining work. We think that will help our business a lot. Customers want it. But we’re still working to meet the modifications required to operate it. There’s still a lot more to plan out,” said Ana Valdez, one of the owners of Real Taqueria.
“Fortunately, we’re doing OK, though, because we still have good customers doing takeout and drive-thru. The hardest part of all this was having to cut a lot of employees down. But we hope to bring them back,” Valdez said.
With continued help from the city and creative adaptations, small businesses in Holladay hope to survive.