Samantha Jones

Sam's Notebook

Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.


Risky business

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

For much of the past two weeks, I have been working on our upcoming edition of Currents Magazine. Currents is one of the fun things we do at Carroll County Newspapers. The stories have more flair than what weíd write for the weekly paper, the photographs are beautiful and they marry to form a glossy, high-quality publication every time.

With the pandemic going around, the type of stories we cover has changed a bit. We canít ignore the pandemic; itís all around us, seeping into nearly every part of daily life. For our last edition of Currents, we featured a historical report on the Spanish Flu. This time around, we are featuring the stories of small business owners in Eureka Springs to get an inside look into what itís like to run a small business in a small tourist town during a worldwide pandemic.

That means I spent most of last week calling retailers, restaurateurs, lodging owners and other movers and shakers in Eureka Springs. As many of you know, Eureka Springs is in a unique spot compared with other cities in Arkansas. It is a small town that expands in population on any given weekend because of the tourism industry. Tourism is the cityís bread and butter, so even a temporary travel ban can do major damage to the economy.

We saw that happen back in May when out-of-state travel was temporarily banned and restaurants were forced to close unless offering food for carry-out. So many businesses have changed their business model to continue making money during the pandemic. For some of these businesses, reopening wasnít a choice. Remaining closed would have meant staying that way forever. Other businesses have closed down, a sad fact I have heard from more than one source.

Then you have a few new businesses that are opening up, risking their livelihood to keep the dream alive. Thatís really what all these businesses have in common. They are run by people who love Eureka Springs and want to share the city with as many people as possible. You donít start a retail business solely to make money. As one business owner pointed out to me, owning a small business is hazardous without a deadly pandemic spreading around.

If you have a small business in a little town like Eureka Springs, itís because you love what you do. Perhaps thatís the most insidious thing about this pandemic †Ė it has forced business owners to make difficult decisions about the future of their business knowing the importance of public safety. They have to weigh out the pros and cons of reopening to the public, knowing they are putting themselves and their employees at risk to contract the virus.

Iíve seen some folks talk about how businesses are selfish for reopening so early. One local business owner was called a murderer for reopening when Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed out-of-state-travel to resume. If you havenít already, I encourage you to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine dreaming of running your own business your whole life, and somehow you make it happen. You achieve the dream.

Then a vicious pandemic takes your money, safety and security. You arenít sure when you should reopen, but you know you need the money. When you do reopen, you barely break even. You spend your day hoping people will come into your shop or restaurant, and then hoping they will comply with safety regulations so you donít have to tell them to wear a mask or use the hand sanitizing station that came out of your already limited budget. You fear what comes next while trudging forward one step at a time, hoping against hope that youíll keep the dream alive.

Thatís the reality for so many of our local small business owners. When you go out shopping or stop by a local restaurant for lunch, I encourage you to remember what those business owners and frontline employees experience on a daily basis. They are taking the risk to continue serving our community and all the visitors who fund the local economy.

Please be kind and understand that your attitude can have a huge impact on the service workers that keep our community going. Be respectful and try to cut people a little slack. Itís the least we can do for the small business owners that make our community so rich.