Experiences are mixed for local business owners


As many of us stay at home to ride out the COVID-19 virus, Jewish Rhode Island wondered how local businesses were weathering the stay-at-home orders. We asked a few local businesspeople for their insights; here’s what they told us:

Mark Glazer, of Davis Dairy Products on Hope Street in Providence, reports that the effects of COVID-19 on his business  are “hard to say, because it’s been Passover and I really don’t know how much of a change there’s been.” He said that over the holiday, they received their “usual Passover crowd.” The store is currently limiting patronage to two customers at a time and has been able to keep its regular hours.

Harry Adler, of Adler’s Hardware on Wickenden Street in Providence, says that he has seen an increased demand for paint from homeowners working on their home interiors, but reduced demand from contractors due to social distancing constraints. “We’re figuring out how to make things work as safely and efficiently as possible,” he said, adding that while the store is not open to the public, it offers curbside pickup and home delivery in the greater Providence area. “If people are uncomfortable coming out, we’ll come to them.  Our priority is to keep the community as safe as we can.”

Freda Ronkin, of Ahava Catering in Providence,  is offering daily, no-contact, curbside pick-up and  delivery. She has been providing daily delivery of boxed lunches for seniors, and reports that she is “delivering kosher meals to anyone in need right now,” including bringing food to staff at Boston-area hospitals. Ronkin said that “anyone  in need of meals at this time should feel free to call [her].”

Jane Linden, of Providence River Animal Hospital in Providence, has a staff member pick up pets in carriers from their owners’ cars, and only animals and staff are allowed in the office. “Our available appointment slots are completely full,” she said. The office has cut back the number of appointments and is rotating doctors. She  emphasized the need for routine pet care. “Our business is definitely less than it would be; people have canceled routine appointments. We are grateful that we are able to be there for people.”

Susan Benzuly, of Evolve Apothecary on Hope Street in Providence, writes that “We are in awe of the community who continues to support us, thinking of Sarah who orders something every Friday to show her support. (We continue to take phone and email orders.) More than the bump to our meager account, it is her belief in us   that makes me weep.” She reports that her staff, for the most part, is managing. “They are the heart of our business and I worry about them costantly. On our team we have a single mom; someone who had just made an offer on their first home; another who was reestablishing herself in Rhode Island. We are not sure what the future holds, but we are doing our best to hang on. We are grateful to our landlord who has been more than patient. And we are grateful for the solidarity and camaraderie of our fellow merchants. We share tips, compare notes, but mostly continue to root for each other.”

Brian Goldman, of Big Blue Bug Solutions in Providence, said that “like most businesses, we were not as prepared as we could have been,” but that they are “taking a ton of precautions to do everything we can to keep everyone safe.” He explained, “We already had PPE due to the nature of our work, and fortunately had it ready,” and described the protocols they’ve instituted to limit interactions between individual workers and between workers and customers. “We’ve set up our parking lot as a drive-through, and supervisors fill the trucks while workers stay in the vehicle.” Goldman also reported that office staff have adapted quickly to working from home, and that “the response from our customers has been fantastic.”

Rich Streitfeld, CPA with Aaronson Lavoie Streitfeld Diaz & Co., and Mortgage Loan Officer with Total Mortgage in Cranston, commented, “In my tax practice, there is urgency – ‘where is my stimulus check, how do I get these loans, how do I stay in business?’ ” Regarding mortgages, Streitfeld said that “people are looking for ways to save money because of the economic crisis, or if their situation is more stable they are reducing the term of their loan… In both areas, given the economic forecast we expect the intense activity to continue.” He reported that he and his colleagues “have adapted pretty quickly to working remotely, although we miss seeing our clients!”

Dan Speca, of the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich, remarked that performing arts venues were among the first businesses affected by occupancy limits, and said that he expects to “be among the last businesses able to open to capacity.” He noted that planning for the future has been a challenge, saying that “we’re trying to be nimble, but it’s been tricky. I’m optimistic that people will eventually be comfortable enough to gather in large groups, and hopefully they will want to do it with us.” Saying that performing arts events can provide the kind of relief people are looking for, Speca emphasized that “We will be back, and we will be having shows, so hold on to those tickets!”

Marc Perlman, of Ocean State Job Lot, said, “[As] an essential retailer, our store associates are on the front line. We recognize and appreciate their efforts every day.” The chain is thanking its employees with an additional $2 per hour worked, a 30% employee discount and bonuses paid from the proceeds of a 2% optional surcharge added to all sales. OSJL’s Charitable Foundation has pledged one million masks to front-line personnel, and has so far donated 525,000 surgical and KN95 masks to healthcare workers and first-responders, including “police and fire departments in all 140 communities where our stores are located.” The chain has also “given away enough free fabric to our customers to make 1.5 million masks.” As part of OSJL’s ongoing commitment to end food insecurity, the company has hosted two “drive-through food banks” at Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. Those events distributed food to more than 1,200 and 1,500 Pawtucket residents, respectively. “As far as returning to the ‘old normal,’ ” said Perlman, “It will be a long time before that happens. In the meantime, we are learning so much about ourselves and our capacity to innovate and perform under pressure.” He concluded, “It’s part of our corporate mission to give back to the communities where we live and work. Now, more than ever, we are motivated to use our resources and unique skill sets to find opportunities to do so. We’re all in this together.”

COVID-19, business