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A Wild Ride

Entrepreneurs Anxious To Get Back To Work

From left, Veronica Walters with sister Debbie Booth, who she refers to as her “right hand man,” stand near the grill at Vern’s Place. Booth, when making a random visit to the shuttered diner, discovered a leaky coffee maker had damaged a wall and the floor. Submitted photo

It can’t be disputed, COVID-19 has affected every American in some way or another. The abrupt halt of certain types of businesses has had a great impact on two local business woman.

BOBBI BRAGG

Bobbi Bragg set high standards when she opened her consignment shop, EBE’s Originals, on Frewsburg’s Main Street on April 1, 1992.

“I started from the ground up, from nothing to what it is today,” Bragg said.

In time, a Warren, Pa., location was added and then her 135 E. Fairmount Ave. store, into which she eventually consolidated the other stores. She continues to hold to those high standards today in an expanded Lakewood store, which consists of two side by side storefronts, totaling 9,000 square feet.

Like many other local business owners, Bobbi Bragg has lostmoney during this time of COVID-19 shutdown at EBE’s Originals and The Store Next Door. Submitted photo

On one side she accepts only top quality brand name clothing, handbags, jewelry, shoes and accessories that have been purchased new within the last three years and in the correct season. On the other side, she offers modern, trendy furniture and home decor.

“I don’t have to tell people about my business because we have been established with a great clientele and customer base,” Bragg said.

The necessity of her store being forced to close on March 17 is baffling to her, as she watches stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot remain open.

“Aren’t food, clothing and shelter essentials,” she said. “With all of the stores that have closed, there is a very limited number of places to shop. We are one of the few left in Chautauqua County that sells brand name clothing. I’ve got so many different things going on because of this.”

She goes on to explain that her 12-month business tends to be seasonal with January and February being the slowest time of the year, as with most businesses. “People don’t tend to buy gift items that are gently used for Christmas, although we do well with gift cards and Christmas ornaments and decor, but we count on March 1 through October.”

At the beginning of March, her summer season begins when she appeals to spring-breakers and vacationers looking for summer attire.

“We lost everyone with tax refunds and prom gowns, which are higher-priced items. At the end of March we were supposed to run our dollar sale, which we run three times per year. We usually have 120 people lined up at the store for two straight days. They park at Harbor Freight, in the cemetery and wherever they can find a parking spot,” she said.

The clothing and accessory side has half-off sales every Tuesday.

“Tuesdays got so busy when we were in Frewsburg, the Kwik Fill would reduce gas by three cents,” she said. “We’ve lost ten Tuesdays, our big days. I’m in to this for a lot of money.”

Her March through May rent payments totaled $10,500, but she was only open 13 days in that period. Another $3,500 is due June 1.

More complications will arise with how her employees cash out the customers. Every consigned item gets 91 days on the floor from the day it is tagged.

“Time stopped March 17. My computer thinks these garments have been on the floor 91 days, therefore everything will have to be rung manually. Most staff will be spending more time getting inventory out. It’s like a time warp. When we reopen, we will not be able to take any consignments until we restructure. Luckily, we had a large volume of summer (items) already dropped off.”

Another issue she is dealing with is the SBA loan which must be spent within eight weeks of receival. Seventy-five percent is designated for payroll and 25 percent for rent, utilities, etc. The clock is ticking, one of her employees is expecting twins and another is at high-risk and apprehensive about returning. All five of her employees are currently receiving unemployment, but she is not.

“If you get on social media you find about 50 percent of the people are scared still and 50 percent are saying ‘let’s get this show on the road.’ I need 100 percent of my customers,” she said.

Bragg was hoping to be allowed to reopen on June 1 at the time of the interview.

VERONICA WALTERS

Veronica Walters, owner of Vern’s Place in Randolph, closed her diner on March 16.

Her husband, Howard, called her that morning to tell her he had heard Governor Cuomo was shutting down restaurants. Around noon, a customer verified he had heard the governor announce the 8 p.m. shutdown.

“I felt like I got gut-punched. I couldn’t breathe. I really thought about my employees. I worried about a lot of my customers who are widowed. I have a lot of widowers,” she said.

She opted to close knowing it would be better for her help to collect unemployment “than struggling with me” trying to do curbside. Two employees have been receiving checks, but two are still having a difficult time getting into the system.

“I thought they would be better off. I couldn’t imagine paying sales tax and payroll tax on take-out,” she said. “I’m fine. The diner has been self-sufficient since day one.”

To add insult to injury of the forced closing, her sales tax was due four days later.

“That was a kick, I’ll tell you. But truthfully, I wouldn’t have wanted to put it off.”

Besides the tax, she had to pay her employee tax, her supplier and the quarterly contribution to unemployment.

After she collected her thoughts on closing day, her husband’s business Randolph Auto, just two doors from hers, came to mind.

“That was a concern. I was shutting down and how was his business going to go?”

As it turns out, she had no reason to worry about her spouse’s business, which has been able to operate regular business hours with nearly a full staff.

“He’s been busy. Their little parking lot business is booming. They’ve done well,” she said.

During this time of shutdown, Vern’s Place experienced an unfortunate event. The coffeemaker malfunctioned, spraying water for an unknown amount of time but long enough to fill a 50-gallon garbage can that was sitting nearby. The water damaged the flooring and a wall, but fortunately, her insurance will cover the expenses, as well as the cost of the added water usage.

Catering jobs for two wedding receptions and an event for 200 at the Cattaraugus County Fair were lost, as well as tourist business.

“We always got really busy during the fair when people came in for breakfast.”

Mrs. Walters has been considering opening Wednesday-Saturday with just two employees. She wonders if many of her usual breakfast and lunch gang will return or if fear will keep them away for a while. She will, most likely, do a survey on Facebook to determine what schedule the customers require or if she should start with her regular hours. Since guidelines have not been set at the time of the interview, opening was a mystery.

“I don’t know what they’ll expect of us. I have heard stories about ventilation changes.”

If it is not too costly, she will have her menu on paper placemats, eliminating the need to sanitize menus after each guest.

“I’m going to be a little in debt, but I’ll pay it eventually. We’ll be alright. We’ll hang in there. We always have. My girls are just as invested in the business,” says the business woman. “It is a wild ride.”

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