By Joyce Coronel
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, shoppers in Tempe and West Chandler are coming up against an unprecedented challenge: It’s nearly impossible to find staples like bread, eggs, chicken, flour or toilet paper.
Area grocery stores don’t seem able to keep up with demand and they’ve had to shorten hours for restocking and sanitizing. Other stores are busy, too.
McKay’s True Value is thrumming with customers who have been stuck at home and want to catch up on home improvement projects. Area gun stores are experiencing a huge demand for firearms and ammunition.
But not every business is so fortunate.
George Walston, who manages Great Harvest Bread Co. in Tempe, says catering orders have been canceled and the restaurant side of the business is down by about half.
That was three days before the city of Tempe’s declaration of an emergency. He’d already taken out some of the seating in the dining area in order to increase the spacing between tables.
Now, Tempe has ordered all restaurants to close, except for delivery or curb-side service. Still, there’s silver lining to
the difficulties. Ward Walston, chief baker at Great Harvest, said demand for loaves of bread has skyrocketed.
“Today I probably made four times the amount of bread I would normally make. People are buying bread—they can’t get it anywhere else. They’re hunting this out and finding us.”
Two days prior to Tempe’s emergency declaration, Pollack Tempe Cinemas closed its doors in an effort to keep the public and the theater’s employees safe. “We sincerely value your patronage and look forward to reopening as soon as it is safe to do so,” said owner Michael Pollack. Tempe’s emergency declaration has shuttered all theaters, bars and entertainment venues in the city.
Mary Wall, owner of Wall 2 Wall Tap Dance Center, has been stung by the crisis as well.
“I have had to stop operation of my business for the time being due to COVID-19. I hope to be resuming classes in a few weeks, but who knows?” Wall said.
Mary Contreras of State Farm says her firm has asked the majority of its clients to meet with agents over the phone rather than in person if possible. “We’re trying to limit the ones that are face-to-face contacts,” Contreras said. “We’re trying to be respectful of distancing and things like that.” The agency has postponed its annual Spring Fling event.
Anne Gill, president and CEO of Tempe Chamber of Commerce, and Terri Kimble, president and CEO of Chandler Chamber of Commerce, each said they are on the phone frequently with the governor’s office, Arizona’s congressional delegation and state legislators as the business community scrambles to deal with the crisis.
“We are all in this together but we also can’t panic,” Kimble said. “We need to talk about how we can help one another.”
At press time, the city of Chandler had not closed local businesses, but as the public increasingly heeds the call to shelter in place, many local enterprises have suffered. In an email message to business owners, the Chandler Chamber emphasized its commitment to continuing support:
“During these uncertain times, the Chandler Chamber stands in solidarity with all our members. We know how important it is that our members receive the most current information, resources and strategies to assist in navigating the coming months,” the email stated.
Gill, of the Tempe Chamber, said she’s hopeful that the precautions taken by the city of Tempe will help limit the time of COVID-19’s impact to on Tempe’s businesses. Owners have had to make difficult decisions.
“This is their heart and their passion and they want to be there for the community but they also understand that they need to do their part to keep their employees safe,” Gill said. The Tempe Chamber, like the Chandler Chamber, is offering online resources, webinars and other assistance to member businesses.
“Businesses are the backbone of our community and if we have a strong business community, we have a strong community,” Gill said. And as businesses like restaurants and bars face tough times, she said the chamber is looking at plans for rent relief and encouraging “everyone to have that corporate generosity.”
As pressures on businesses mount, though, it’s time to come up with solutions, the chamber leaders said.