The 2020 coronavirus scare isn’t a total bust so far for local businesses.
Anything vaguely resembling cleaning fluid or disinfectant was flying off the shelves at Goody’s Hardware at 540 Main St. in East Haven — even before President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 threat a national emergency, said owner Rob Katz.
Ferraro’s Market, a locally-owned grocery store at 664 Grand Ave. in New Haven, was mobbed.
Meanwhile, out in Branford, new stocks of toilet paper were bought-up and bagged just as fast as employees could put them out at Caron’s Corner, a locally-owned grocery store at 147 Montowese St. in Branford, said co-owner David Caron.
“We’re doing great. We’re busy — we’re always busy,” said Katz at Goody’s. “We’re selling cleaners, disinfectents, toilet cleaners, gloves, masks, any kind of disinfectant.”
In fact, “I’ve never seen people buy cleaner like this before,” he said. “It was like a storm — only there was no snow this time.”
But busy was the not the case across the state.
At the Bedford Street Diner Nancy Ackerson operates near the Stamford Superior Court it’s usually packed with jurors and court staff eating a quick lunch. Not on Friday.
“Pretty empty,” she said, surveying a scant lunchtime crowd.
As the coronavirus continues to spread unease and public concerns, the local economy, in places that serve working people cheese burgers, omelets and French fries, are taking a major hit.
“It’s scary. We are not sure what the future holds for us along with many other local businesses” Ackerson said about the drop-off in business, “Even our customers are saying, ‘we’ve never seen it like this.”
The diner, like other eating establishments and hospitality businesses, is facing major uncertainty with the drop-off in customers caused by the extensive closures of offices and schools to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
There are hard realities now confronting Ackerson’s diner, like other small businesses that provide the backbone of the job sector in the Fairfield County region.
“We have cooks we need to pay, and we have rent, the bills aren’t going away,” the restaurant owner noted. How those bills will get paid is a worry, she said.
But in Greater New Haven, while many area restaurants reported slower-than-normal walk-in business this week, particularly Friday — the first day most area schools were closed and the day President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency — several restaurants said they were doing brisker-than-usual carry-out and delivery business.
Overall, “it hasn’t really affected our business,” said Corey Spruill, owner of Jordan’s Hot Dogs & Mac on State Street in New Haven. His restaurant was one of those places where walk-in business was down a bit, but take-outs and deliveries (via Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door Dash) were up.
Spruill, who has owned Jordan’s at 970 State for about eight years, did have a little extra help Friday. His son, Jordan, 10, the restaurant’s namesake, was sitting at the counter with him after his school, West Woods Elementary — and the entire Hamden school system — was shut down by coronavirus fears.
A couple of feet away from them, a bottle of Chlorox, some Lysol cleaner and a can of disinfectant spray were prominently displayed next to a small hand-washing sink. Against the opposite wall, a package of Lysol wipes sat by the utensils and the drink cooler.
He — like most of the people interviewed for this story — said he had stepped up his cleaning and sanitizing to help keep customers and employees safe.
As of Friday, Spruill had had no issues at all with his supply chain, he said.
Just across State Street and half a block away, Marjolaine Pastry Shop, a fixture at 961 State St. for 24 years, was feeling the loss of business — particularly when it came to larger cakes, said Pablo Garcia, nephew of owner Arlene Cardenas.
“The biggest problem is people are not buying big cakes” because they’re being discouraged — and in some cases banned — from holding larger gatherings, Garcia said.
Marjolaine has reduced its on-duty staff by one-third as a result, he said.
Smaller cakes still were selling, as were smaller pastries, tarts and candies. “We still sold five cakes today,” with three more paid for and expected to be picked up, Garcia said Friday afternoon. “But it’s usually much more than that.”
Because everything is sold fresh, the bakery has been more selective in what it makes each day, he said. By Friday afternoon, for example, it had very few cookies to sell.
Garcia said Marjolaine’s only supply chain issues were empty shelves for some items at Home Depot, as well as some issues with fruit and dairy deliveries.
Around the corner at Latin Roots, a take-out restaurant at 957 State that specializes in Puerto Rican food, owner Yari Gonzalez said people’s concern about coronavirus has affected her business since Thursday afternoon.
“People are scared to come out,” said Gonzalez, who opened the business with help from her mother and grandmother just over a year ago. “We were so busy for lunch yesterday,” but “today, nobody’s coming out.”
She said she had had no problems so far getting food or supplies and “I’m not worried” that the slowdown will last, Gonzalez said. “I’m just hoping it’s something that passes quickly.”
Across the driveway at The Neighborhood Cafe,” a coffee shop and breakfast and lunch spot that opened 15 months ago at 947A State St., owner Cheryl Consiglio said she has yet to have any problems.
“I’ve been able to get everything I need,” and “business has been a little slow, but nothing too bad,” said Consiglio, a relative of the Consiglio family of Sally’s Apizza fame.
“Last weekend was great!” Consiglio said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend.”
A couple of miles away on Elm Street in West Haven, business was way up at Nazar Halal Meat & Market, 39 Elm St. Co-owner Demet Ozbay said it was “a lot busier” and her husband, Yusuf, said business at the ethnic Turkish market was about double what they normally do.
A lot of that was people stocking up on meat, pasta, rice, canned goods and bulgur wheat, said Demet Ozbay. But it also was the demand for a particular Turkish product that many non-Turks may not know about — but might want to know about: Turkish lemon cologne.
The relatively-inexpensive citrus-scented cologne is 80 percent alcohol and is used by many Turks as a hand sanitizer, Demet Ozbay said.
She said that Nazar had had no supply-chain issues as of Friday.
Back at the Bedford Street Diner in Stamford Ackerson also said the restaurant staff is working hard to allay concerns about public-health. “We’re cleaning the menus, cleaning everything with the special spray,” she said, to ensure confidence in the operation.
But Ackerson said she is seeing shortages of food that restaurants rely on, probably driven by panic-buying by anxious consumers across the area. “There are food shortages all around, which is not allowing us to get the items we need to even run our business efficiently, said Ackerson, who has run the business for 12 years.
The diner has been making deliveries, but that side of the business can’t make up for the loss of customers dining in.
Meanwhile, in West Haven, over at the Elm Diner at 111 Elm St., new owner Ahmet Kangal said it was a little slow Friday — about 50-60 percent of his normal business — but he doesn’t think it will last.
Kangal and several of his employees said they’ve done major cleaning — including using disinfectant on all of the Elm Diner’s laminated plastic menus and stepped-up wiping-down of surfaces by kitchen staff.
“You know how many times I wiped down the doors and windows today” Kangal asked. “Eight or 10 times!”
He said he had had no problem getting supplies so far, and deliveries via Uber Eats, Door Dash and Grub Hub had been up compared to usual.
While the place was probably a little quieter than usual during the hours in between the lunch and dinner rushes, patrons Don Mauri and his friend John Fitzpatrick, both of West Haven, had no fear or qualms about going out for a bit during a global coronavirus pandemic.
“You know what, I’m worried about enough things,” said Mauri.
Mauri and Fitzpatrick originally had planned to go to the Denny’s on Saw Mill Road, but found that Denny’s — which almost never closes — was closed on Friday.
So Fitzpatrick, who lives across the street from Elm Diner, suggesting going to the diner instead, he said.
Back at Stamford’s Bedfort Street Diner, Ackerson was looking for leadership from Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers to present options and support for vulnerable small businesses. Otherwise, she said, restaurants like hers are in danger.
Reporter Robert Marchant contributed to this story.