Businesses face challenges during pandemic

Two local businesses make adjustments to profit

Paige Darling, Multimedia Editor

In early March, the rise in COVID-19 cases resulted in restaurants closing for inside dine-in and a week later Illinois’ first stay-at-home order started. All non-essential businesses were closed, leaving restaurants open for carry-out or delivery in Downtown LaGrange; curbside pick up was also an option. For many local business owners, this has been a trying time as they had to adjust to new rules. 

Steve Palmer, co-owner of Palmer Place in Downtown LaGrange with his brother Phil Palmer, has been through a roller coaster, he said. His business was closed down the day before St. Patrick’s Day which resulted in a big financial loss due to large potential sales on that day. He later applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, qualifying for enough money to allow his business to survive until the last week of May when outdoor dining was permitted.   

“Switching to carry out, there was no way for our business to truly survive that way, although the people of our community stepped up and did their best to support, buy and keep us and other businesses going which was wonderful to see,” Palmer said.

Some challenges include people refusing to wear their masks and limited seating, he said. To combat their business not making as much money, they had to make staff cuts to regulate the payroll. With limited dining, there are fewer servers and usually only one bartender. 

“These are people who need their paycheck, so it’s hurting people who don’t deserve it,” Palmer said. “It makes you very sick to your stomach.” 

This time has not been all bad for Palmer’s business; he was fortunate this summer because of outdoor dining, he said. The restaurant has an outdoor garden and rooftop that seats 200  people; there is also additional space on the sidewalks of LaGrange. Great outdoor space attracted more customers, allowing for a successful summer. 

Nikki Ardnt is the owner of Darling Shop, a gift shop in LaGrange that has only been open for about a year. For her non-essential business, it has also been a difficult time because it heavily relied on foot traffic. During the two months her storefront was closed, she had to quickly adjust to still make a profit. She created a website and offered shipping and curbside pick up. 

“I think it has been a challenge for a lot of businesses, but I am confident that we can carry on and keep thinking of creative ideas and ways to keep people engaged,” Arndt said.

Throughout this difficult time, both businesses have found ways to help the community and others. The Darling Shop has developed a “Cheer Parcel” to remain connected and spread happiness to friends and family. It is a gift box containing products from the store geared towards the theme a customer picks. 

Palmer Place has also been able to donate to Beds Plus, an organization helping to end homelessness, by donating 65-75 meals a week. It started with a customer wanting to help during the pandemic. The customer donated $500 to help veterans or homeless people and through other donations, it has continued since March 18. Now Palmer Place is doing a “Match a Meal” program where customers can donate money, and the business will match their donation. Every Saturday, Palmer takes an employee with him to deliver meals to nearby motels. 

“It’s very emotional, very special and we always have good discussions on the ride back,” he said. “I always end it with ‘make sure when you get home tonight you thank your parents.’”