Even ‘recession-proof’ Md. businesses not immune to COVID-19

(Submitted photo)

Dogs play at Best Friends Fur Ever, which has seen its once-thriving business take a sharp dive because of the coronavirus. (Submitted photo)

Kelly Cullum said Monday she’s glad pharmacies in Maryland remain open. The owner of Best Friends Fur Ever said she could use some melatonin supplements.

The sleep-deprived Cullum and her staff are currently taking care of 49 dogs at the Cockeysville location and 19 at the Joppa store. Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced most Maryland residents to stay home from work, she said, a “couple hundred” dogs passed through the doors of the business each day for training, grooming, boarding and daycare.

“I haven’t got through the night with sleep,” Cullum said.

As the COVID-19 outbreak in Maryland hammers the business Cullum co-owns with husband Patrick Cullum, she’s trying to find ways to keep the enterprise open and her employees paid.

Best Friends Fur Ever is offering a 20% discount to “just about anybody” who’s working while most Maryland residents deemed non-essential workers stay home. To help shift workers, like police, firefighters, doctors and nurses, they’re allowing pickup and drop off of pets around the clock.

Cullum is just one of countless small businesses owners dealing with sleepless nights and wrestling with anxiety about the potential for the deadly new coronavirus to close their businesses for good.

The pandemic that swept through the U.S. over the past month has created “profound” disruptions for small businesses, according to survey results the National Federation of Independent Businesses released Monday.

So far the pandemic has hurt 76% of the nation’s small businesses, according to NFIB, which is up from 25% of firms impacted by the illness earlier this month. While roughly one out of five businesses said they’re not hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak, 77% of those businesses expect that to change if the illness spreads in coming months.

Previously, 16% of small business owners who responded to an NFIB survey a few weeks ago said they were “very concerned” about the virus’ impact. In the latest survey that number climbed to 68% of respondents who said they’re “very concerned.”

The rise in worry about the illness among businesses correspond with a steady increase in the number of confirmed cases across the nation and in Maryland in recent weeks.

Maryland’s first three cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Montgomery County on March 5. That number increased to 85 cases on March 18 and ballooned to 288 cases on Monday, with residents of every county infected. So far, three people in Maryland have died from the illness.

In a bid to mitigate the economic damage Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday said Maryland will devote $175 million to support small businesses and nonprofits. Roughly $130 million is new funding for the Maryland Department of Commerce for new loans and grants.

The dramatic drop in business activity caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has caused hardships even for previously thriving businesses.

Previously, Best Friends Fur Ever, which opened 15 years ago, produced an average revenue growth between 19% and 25% annually, and Cullum said she thought her shops were “recession-proof.”

As the business boomed the number of employees working for Cullum increased from about five employees to 85. That number was expected to surpass 100 this spring, she said, before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Employees will still receive full checks through the current pay period, Cullum said, but the business is eating into the six months of reserve it had built up.

The challenges presented by COVID-19, and the attempts to slow its spread, are at a level most small businesses are not prepared to handle.

“We did everything you’re supposed to do as a small business,” Cullum said.

News that Maryland was allocating money to help small business keep paying employees, she said, provided reason for optimism. It gives her hope, Cullum said, that federal elected officials will “stop fighting” and provide more dollars to help businesses like hers keep their doors open and save jobs.

“We’re working diligently to keep as many employees on board as possible,” she said.

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One comment

  1. Dale Ashera-Davis

    Kelly & her staff are amazing-they helped our shy, fearful rescued yellow Lab become happy and outgoing. They have never failed to help us out & I always felt safe leaving Dolly with them. We moved to MD’s Lower Eastern Shore about 18 months ago & miss them all terribly.

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