By Marc Sherman
We are facing an unprecedented catastrophe.
Whether you believe the threat is real and upon us or you think it’s a hoax, the reality is people are suffering very real illness and very personal challenges.
For my business, Stowe Mercantile, we have closed following the governor’s proclamation for food service businesses. We unfortunately have had to let a few staff members know that when we reopen, we will not need their service – a painful reality for them and for me. For the balance of our staff, we are paying their wages for the three weeks we’ll be closed. I have initiated another bank loan so I can carry this payroll while there is no revenue coming into my business. My only hope is that future sales will cover this immediate expense – a risky strategy at best.
Vermont small business needs immediate help. We want to continue in business. We want to support our employees. We want to be a part of the solution to keeping Vermonters employed and keeping the Vermont economy running.
Small businesses operate on thin profit margins, any significant impact on cash flow, cash reserves or profits jeopardize our ability to reopen and may lead to mass business failures.
I do recognize the commitment by all legislators, all agency commissioners, the governor and his staff to tackle this rapidly changing situation. I urge the swift passing of H.681 with minor changes, so those Vermonters out of work because of the COVID-19 virus, can receive benefits quickly while not penalizing employers.
Additionally, to the Legislature and the governor:
Relieve employers of any impact to their unemployment rating for a minimum of the next four months; we simply will not be able to absorb any substantial increase in taxes.
Support any effort, state and federal, for low interest, short-term loans for operating capital.
Delay the implementation of the bag bill for six months. The increased expense is a burden on small business, we support the initiative, just give us time. Additionally, single use bags are far safer than reusable bags right now.
Do not institute new programs or new taxes on employers. It is enough to absorb the new minimum wage and the escalating wages that occur for all employees. Let’s collectively maintain as many jobs as we can right now.
Please allow any changes to paid leave laws come from the federal level. Have all businesses live by the same rules; do not put Vermont businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Consider support for a federal, countrywide shutdown. It will do us no good to take drastic steps in Vermont to end the spread of this virus, to only have early returning tourists come into the state and potentially create another wave of illness.
Move any supportive legislation quickly. I realize it’s hard and awkward to hold committee meetings remotely. But any delay in supportive measures hurts every small business and jeopardizes the return of jobs when this passes.
Continue to engage all Vermonters. Information is critical. Open and nonpartisan conversation is critical.
We are all Vermonters. We all want this to end as quickly as possible. We need businesses to survive and provide jobs. We need our employees to come back to work and then spend their paychecks in our communities. We need to greet our legislators and our governor without partisan rancor and engage with our stories, with our reality. We all need to be a part of the solution for getting through this.
We are one community and must move forward as one.
Marc Sherman is the owner of Sherman Enterprises Inc., which includes Stowe Mercantile, The Boutique and the Stowe Mercantile Kitchen. This commentary was also published by VTDigger, March 22.