'This could be the extinction of a lot of small businesses': Restaurants hit hard by coronavirus

Posted at 5:14 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 20:43:01-04

WISCONSIN — Restaurants across the country remain in limbo as the coronavirus forces them to shut down temporarily, and the impact could get worse as the days go by.

For 40 years, Erv's Mug has been serving the people of Milwaukee County in Oak Creek.

The last thing owner Danielle Baerwald ever wanted to do was close it down, but last week she felt they had no other choice to keep their employees and customers safe.

"It's really hard," Baerwald said. "When the order came down last Tuesday to restrict any face-to-face business, we elected at that time not to do the carryout or to-go orders."

All 33 employees were laid-off.

"They're family, some of them have been with me over 20 years," Baerwald said.

Now, it's taking an emotional toll.

President of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Kristine Hillmer said the coronavirus is having a significant impact on the industry.

"This could be the extinction of a lot of small businesses," Hillmer said.

Last year they reported 13,000 eating and drinking spots in the state, with nearly 300,000 employees, nine percent of employment in Wisconsin.

These places make nearly $11 billion for the state.

Right now, Hillmer said a third of those businesses are closed, and those that are open are seeing 60 to 90 percent losses in sales.

"I can guarantee there will be some small operators that will not be able to reopen," Hillmer said.

As Baerwald waits for the day she can reopen, anxiety sets in.

"We're hoping that this moves past quickly, and we come out the other side," Baerwald said.

The unknowns make it hard to bear, but she remains optimistic.

"It's a tough struggle every day, and now to add this on top of it, I guess we'll all just count our blessings," Baerwald said.

Hillmer said she's working with the state to see if there's any help they can offer, as bills to support the business are pending at the federal level.

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