Small Business Owners Hold On In PA
January 5, 2021
“Conversations with optimistic business owners” are not words that have been strung together by any writer since early in 2020—but a number of recent conversations suggest a hopefulness that it would have been impossible to find during the year that just ended.
There are two factors in play here.
One is a sense that businesses that have weathered the storm of the pandemic through some combination of good fortune, access to capital, and ability to adapt now need only to hang on for a few more months before things start to return to normal.
That is far from being every business: in December I spoke to Laura, the owner of a small store in a nearly deserted shopping mall who confided that she was almost certainly closing for good in January and had remained open largely to avoid laying off her employees before Christmas, and to the more-than-slightly embittered owner of a usually busy bar-restaurant who said “the only reason I have any employees I could call back is that they’re all on unemployment.”
The less tangible reason for optimism is the idea—somewhere between a firm expectation and a fond hope right now—that by the summer of 2021, concern about the novel coronavirus will have been replaced by an almost manic desire to see the people and do the things it had been impossible to see or do for more than a year.
That can only be good news for restaurants, hotels, and resorts. Ryan, a management employee who doubles in the winter as a ski instructor at a resort in northeastern Pennsylvania, gave away his background as a history major when he noted that “the last pandemic came right before the Roaring Twenties, when everyone was excited to be done with war and disease.”
There were no history lessons, but at least a guarded note of optimism, to be heard from the events manager of a downtown Pittsburgh hotel, who said “I can schedule an event for April, as long as it’s not for more than fifty percent of capacity for that room and they understand that things might change” but went on to predict “if you want space here from September through the winter, you better book it now before it gets gobbled up.”
Pennsylvania’s economy is much bigger than the hospitality industry—but the speed of the economic rebound for every citizen may depend on how accurate the predictions of those in that industry turn out to be.