Belle View Shopping Center in Alexandria, Va., with mostly privately owned small businesses. Many stores are closing or have limited their hours because of the coronavirus. (Deborah Block/VOA)
Belle View Shopping Center in Alexandria, Va., with mostly privately owned small businesses. Many stores are closing or have limited their hours because of the coronavirus. (Deborah Block/VOA)

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - Restaurant owner Jim Nicopoulos stands behind the carryout counter waiting on customer Jose Telorio at Primo Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia.

He’s usually in the dining area shaking hands with customers or hugging those he’s known for years. Now, he hopes his regulars will keep his business going a little longer in the Belle View Shopping Center.

Primo is among the small, mostly privately owned businesses there. Telorio is concerned the restaurant could shut down for good.

“It’s sad," he said. “It’s a great place to bring your family.”

Primo Family Restaurant owner Jim Nicopoulos gives carryout food to a customer. (Deborah Block/VOA)

After Nicopoulos lost 80% of his business in one week, he closed the dining room because “business was dropping, and it wouldn’t support the payroll,” and also to help protect his staff and customers from the coronavirus.

The worst part, he said, was having to lay off most of his 28 employees. Server Alessandra Quiones said she understood.

 “Our health is more important to me,” she said.

Nicopoulos had been stocking just enough food for carryout orders. He fears it’s only a matter of time before he closes the eatery entirely.

While major corporations typically have the resources and financial reserves to weather a major economic downturn, small businesses across the United States could collapse in the weeks and months ahead. Nearly half of America’s workforce is employed by small businesses, many of which have fewer than 20 employees.

Virginia Florist, also a gift shop, has lots of merchandise and few customers. (Deborah Block/VOA)

The Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers are working on a series of measures to prop up the U.S. economy, including small businesses. Already, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest loans to enterprises impacted by COVID-19. 
 
Some corporations are also pitching in. Facebook has pledged $100 million in grants to small businesses.

Kevin Green, owner of Virginia Florist, a flower and gift shop in the Belle View Shopping Center, hopes to receive some of that money to support his business. He said his revenue has already plummeted 50%. With so few customers, merchandise he already paid for is sitting on shelves. And the flower orders, the bulk of his business, are being canceled for events such as parties, meetings and weddings. 

“How am I going to pay the utilities and rent?” he asked.

A sign on the door at emergency veterinarian EMMAvet requests social distancing from customers. (Deborah Block/VOA)

While some businesses in the shopping center, such as the kickboxing gym and barber shop, have already closed, others are cutting back their hours, including the nail salon and bakery.

Veterinarian clinic EMMAvet is open, but a sign on the front door asks customers to observe “social distancing.”

Bucking the trend, a privately owned wine and beer store is doing better than ever.  According to manager Davis Wills, the name of the store, UnWined, says it all. With the stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, he thinks customers are looking for “mood enhancers.”

Davis Wills, a manager at UnWined, pours a beer for a customer. (Deborah Block/VOA)

Wills’ employees are taking extra precautions by disinfecting phones, wiping doorknobs and using hand sanitizers. If customers don’t want to come inside, their alcohol will be handed to them at the door.

Meanwhile, Nicopoulos and Green said they are just trying to survive one day at a time.

“This is new for everybody,” Nicopoulos added. “I’m just hoping for the best.”

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