After Gov. Doug Bergum’s statement on Thursday, March 19, restaurants, bars and other places where people gather have been closed down. While large chain stores remain open amid the COVID-19 crisis, small businesses are shutting their doors, leaving many with the same answer about their livelihood’s future; “I don’t know.”
Falon Justice, owner of Bride to Be and More in Williston, was preparing for an exciting prom season, with young men and women alike ordering dashing suits and fancy dresses. Now, with schools across the state closed until further notice, all those plans are up in the air. Taking to Facebook Live, Justice shared with her customers the news that she had made the choice to close her doors.
“For us here, I can’t really keep that six-foot minimum when I’m trying to measure guys for tuxes and suits or when I’m trying to help these lovely ladies find their perfect prom gown or their dream wedding dress, and it’s just really hard to figure it all out,” Justice said, visibly emotional. “Obviously this is going to be just temporary. We are still trying to figure out what our new normal is going to be for the next couple weeks.”
Next door at Style Uncorked Boutique, owner Kim Wenko told the Herald she is feeling much the same way, unsure about day to day operations, as “the new normal” can change from moment to moment. Friday, March 20 was Styled Uncorked’s first day of being closed, but Wenko said she was hoping to begin offering online shopping to her customers soon, as well as in-town delivery and possibly allowing shoppers to visit the store by appointment only.
But even despite those offerings, Wenko said she is still unsure how the business will work with social distancing becoming the new standard, making it difficult to even order inventory.
“If there’s no money coming in, then how am I going to pay for it?” Wenko said. “In reality it sucks all the way around, because people aren’t buying product, which means my employees don’t have jobs, which means I don’t have any income coming in, which means I’m not buying products from other people either, and then their people don’t have jobs. Really at the end of the day we just all have to stick together and try to weather it all out.”
While residents each try to “weather it out” in their own way, one thing Wenko said she has been glad to see is the ongoing sense of community, despite all the fear.
“The community honestly has been super supportive.” Wenko said. “Everyone has really been very good, and again that’s just the community we live in. Williston is just a wonderful, giving community that will do their very best. It amazes me, because I’m from a bigger city and they don’t do this.”
Larger retail businesses such as Walmart and Menards remain open in Williston, but both have announced reduced hours for their customers. Both companies said the shortened hours will allow them more time for cleaning and sanitizing the store, as well as re-stocking for their customers.
In response to strong demand in stores, Walmart announced that they are looking to hire 150,000 new associates nationwide through the end of May.
In North Dakota, the company plans to hire more than 500 associates to work in stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.
The Salvation Army Family Store in Williston announced it will be closed to the public effective Monday, March 23. The store will remain closed for the foreseeable future, but Salvation Army leaders hope that they will be able to reopen sometime in April.
Williston Economic Development Director Shawn Wenko shared these comments regarding the ongoing crisis and its effects on the business community.
“The Williston Economic Development Office is assessing the impact of COVID-19 and tumbling oil prices on our local businesses,” Wenko said. “We are all in this together and nothing is more important in this office than our continued support to the entrepreneurs who have invested in the community. We have been in contact with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Small Business Development Center, Greater North Dakota Chamber, the Bank of North Dakota and local lenders. First and foremost, it is important that we heed health and safety recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19. We all have to do our part to help flatten the curve. Once everything has settled, we will be working with the aforementioned entities to develop a plan that provides the best information and resources to businesses that have been impacted.”
In the meantime, Wenko recommended that any business owner who has been impacted to visit the following website, which has been constructed by the North Dakota Department of Commerce. https://business.nd.gov/resources/COVID19BusinessandEmployerResources
As she tearily relied the news of her upcoming closure, Justice was sure to try and inject some positivity into the situation, encouraging her customers and community to come together and support each other during this difficult time.
“None of us really know what’s happening or what’s going on or what’s going to happen,” Justice said. “I can’t say it enough, do what you can. Smile at your neighbors. Be kind. Be the good. Pray for those that are sick. Do what you can. And wash your damn hands.”