SUMMERVILLE, S.C. – Nearly two months after a coronavirus lockdown, the changes are both subtle and obvious at the bookstore Main Street Reads in South Carolina.
“We have our plastic shield up now,” said owner Shari Stauch. “We have hand sanitizer all over the store. We ask people - we are actually requiring people - to wear a mask inside.”
We first met Stauch in April, just after her bookstore reopened to customers following the lockdown. At the time, she was alone at the store; her handful of employees – furloughed.
Now, though, they’re back.
“I help manage a store and make sure it stays clean and tidy,” said Hannah Rose Summers, one of the bookstore employees.
Bookstore employee Emma June Wood picked up a new skill.
“I've learned to identify people by their masks,” she said.
What made all the rehiring possible? The bookstore relied on the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program that helped pay for employee salaries. It’s a loan that can be forgiven, as long as those employees are kept on the payroll.
“I would be here by myself if it weren't for that,” Stauch said. “It's just going straight to them. We just want to make sure that that they're here and that they're here for the customer.”
For Wood, it’s made a huge difference financially.
“I help support my family at home,” Wood said. “So, being out of work, even for the short period that I was, caused a lot of anxiety.”
Coming back to work goes beyond income for Summers.
“Actually, the first day I came back, I almost started crying because I was so happy just to be back here,” Summers said. “It's, psychologically, it's just immensely important to me.”
Stauch said she’s grateful the federal small business loan is helping her hold onto her employees. Yet, she adds, with business at the bookstore down 50%, there’s always room for more help.
“We're not looking to make a score out of this situation,” Stauch said. “There's a lot of different groups that need help, too, and like we keep saying, ‘We're all in this together’ – so, wherever it's most needed - but do they continue to need to funnel that into the communities? I think so.”
Congress could potentially take up another stimulus bill later this summer and small businesses may once again be part of it.
“We have a saying here,” Stauch said. “Today's readers are tomorrow's leaders.”
It could very well be leaders that the bookstore, and other small businesses, need to turn to in the future.