Small business, big problems: Marco Island movie theater shuts down for second time
While many area businesses are fearful of a second closure, some are already experiencing it.
Marco Island movie theater Marco Movies closed in mid-March amid the pandemic but reopened in early June after DeSantis ordered Phase 2 opening which allowed movie theaters to reopen.
Despite being a more well-established business, the pandemic hasn't been kind to the theater, which originally opened in 1993.
After Marco Movies opened its doors to the public again in June, owner Nick Campo quickly realized it wasn't sustainable. The theater was forced to play classic, older films since no new movies were being released.
Amid the lack of the draw that new movies bring, the theater was getting 20 to 25 people per day, with most members of the public just walking past the business.
"That's great for 'social distancing,' but it's not great to sustain after being closed for three months," he said.
Campo estimates that he lost around $450,000 in business during the first closure.
The theater stayed open in June for three weeks, during which Campo kept hearing news of a new coronavirus surge hitting the state.
"I said, 'We have to close,'" Campo said. "'We're not going to survive this if we keep bleeding money.'"
Then, the "final nail in the coffin" came when Hollywood studios announced that movies that were previously pushed to July would be pushed further to early August.
Campo knew that he had to close again and "try to figure out a way to ride this out." He did so on June 27, and his 20 employees had to be put on furlough once again.
Now, Campo said he's in limbo and struggling for every "little grant I can get here or penny there."
"The government needs to do something else," he said.
Campo received a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program but noted that money was only good for eight weeks.
The owner also recently applied for and received a Small Business Administration COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance of $10,000, which he said will pay for his rent in July.
"But after that, the well is pretty dry," he said. "I'm looking everywhere."
If the new movies are, in fact, released in early August, then Campo plans to hold out until then and open back up once new product is available. However, if the coronavirus retains its grip on America and forces Hollywood to push releases back even further, Campo worries about how long he can wait.
"As a small businessman who had relative success in the past, it's really frustrating," he said. "I think the most frustrating part is I'm not able to provide for my employees, which is just tearing me up at this point."
'If it happens again, we're done'
Vollen Loucks already had to close his restaurant once due to the coronavirus pandemic. If he has to do it again, he said the shuttering will most likely be permanent.
"If it happens again, we're done," he said.
Loucks is the chef-owner of Cape Coral restaurant Duval Street, which reopened in early May after shutting down on March 20 when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all restaurant dining rooms to close amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some restaurants still operated by offering carryout options to customers, but, aside from two nights, Duval Street did not.
Loucks, like other area business owners, has been keeping an eye on the sharp increase in new coronavirus cases throughout the state and is worried about what it could mean for his establishment.
Coronavirus cases in the state have been skyrocketing in recent weeks. Last Sunday, Florida's total case count topped 200,000, and as of Tuesday, the cumulative percentage of people testing positive in the state had increased for the 23rd day in a row, landing at 9.4%.
As Florida cases rose in March and April, significant dips in customer traffic as well as government mandates led to many area businesses shutting their doors for extended periods of time.
In addition to the order for all dining rooms to close in March, DeSantis issued his statewide "safer-at-home" order in early April, allowing only certain "essential" businesses to continue operations.
Since then, the governor has rolled out Phase 1 and 2 of his reopening plan, allowing restaurants and retail stores, as well as other businesses, to resume operations with some restrictions.
But as increased virus activity continued to stir public concern, businesses are seeing thin crowds and worry that worsening conditions will force them to close once again. Bars are already seeing mandates again, as the Department of Business and Professional Regulation announced in late June that it was suspending alcohol consumption in bars across the state.
After reopening, businesses see less customers, fear second round of closures
After reopening, Loucks called the first seven weeks "phenomenal" but said that the most recent few weekshave seen severe slowdowns in customer traffic.
"It's really died down," he said, citing a combination of the "heat and hysteria" as the culprit.
Loucks - still recovering from the six weeks the restaurant was closed due to the pandemic - doesn't see a bright future for his restaurant if he's to close again.
"I don't know what I'll do," he said. "I'll have to go look for a job ... If it happens again, I just don't see any light at the end of the tunnel. How do you make your payments on your electricity and water and your gas if your business is shut down? Money doesn't grow on trees."
The restaurant, which had just opened in January, was able to receive a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during the second round of program funding but still has been suffering from the losses taken during its shutdown.
The Paycheck Protection Program was created as a part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that was signed by President Donald Trump in late March. The program provided one-time only forgivable loans to small businesses in order to keep them open and keep workers employed. However, many businesses had trouble securing loans in the program until a new round of funding was pumped into it.
Loucks estimated that he lost around $240,000 during the weeks the restaurant was closed.
In addition to the money lost, the owner has had to take precautions such as putting up new hand sanitizer stations and implementing stricter cleaning procedures.
"That all costs money," he said. "And it's money we didn't have to spend before."
Since reopening, Loucks was able to bring back most of his employees but not all. Four out of the 22, he said, are still furloughed. Some of the employees who are back are also working on reduced hours.
"If you don't have the revenue or the sales, how do you justify the labor?" he asked.
The combination of the increased cost of running the restaurant and the dip in consumer confidence amid case increases has left little to no certainty for Duval Street's future.
In fact, in all of his time working in the restaurant industry - over 45 years - Loucks said the business has never seemed so uncertain. He called the pandemic the "worst thing since the (Great) Depression,"which he said his parents went through.
"We've never experienced anything like this," he said. "This is insanity."
Another local business facing such uncertainty is the Cariloha Bamboo store in Naples' Mercato shopping center, which reopened in early May.
The store closed in March amid the pandemic, and after the owners, Jeff and Robin Snell, were unable to secure a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, they sought outside help by starting a GoFundMe.
Cariloha Bamboo eventually, however, did receive PPP funds after more funding was put in.
Robin Snell noted, however, that the store is still climbing out of the hole that the first closure created, making a second one an intimidating prospect.
"Whatever reserves we had, we used those up the first time around," said Robin Snell. (The PPP loan) only helped us pay for payroll for a couple of months, and that's gone."
They stated that the loan only covered their payroll, but rent, utilities, insurance and other expenses still needed to be paid. The Snells estimated that the business, which employs four people, lost around $60,000 to $75,000, even with the help they received from the PPP loan.
Business at the store started out strong after reopening but has since died down, with very little foot traffic.
"Because coronavirus is going back up, it's definitely slowed down," Jeff Snell said.
Robin Snell said that unless there's additional help coming, she's not really sure how the business could be sustained under a second shutdown. They opened in November 2018.
Jeff Snell added that the store has only been open for a year and a half.
"It takes a while to become profitable," he said. "So if we have to get hit again, it's going to be crushing."
Reach Andrew Wigdor at email@example.com and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor