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Jacksonville’s small businesses feeling the pain of ‘social distancing’

Some Riverside Arts Market vendors have seen their only source of income dry up

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Experts say social distancing will help prevent the spread of coronavirus, but it’s also taking a toll on Jacksonville’s small businesses, which have seen foot traffic slow to a trickle.

The result has left local shops and restaurants empty during what would otherwise be peak hours.

Now, businesses throughout the nation are contemplating wage cuts and staffing cutbacks to stay afloat, while some are considering closing their doors entirely — possibly for good.

Take the Riverside Arts Market, for instance. Every Saturday, small business owners camp out under the Fuller Warren Bridge to sell their wares to passersby. But with the event closing for at least three weeks, some farmers, artists and creators are losing their only source of income.

“It’s my full-time job,” Alexis Kaisharis, owner of RandomFandom Gifts told News4Jax on Monday. “We are there every single Saturday.”

Kaisharis said she and her husband stand to lose about $600-700 for every weekend they can’t set up shop for the popular event. The loss of that income has them questioning how to make ends meet.

“That’s our main source of income,” she said. “My husband only works part-time to help out with the business as well, so it’s very stressful to know if we’re going to be able to afford groceries or even our rent.”

The couple isn’t alone. Whether it’s cartoons or cauliflower, the arts market has more than 100 local vendors.

“This is really hard when your income streams are just all of a sudden dried,” said Alina Gonzalez, who owns Urban Folk Farm along with her husband, Simon.

They grow all their fresh produce behind their home off Normandy Boulevard. In response to the spread of coronavirus, they’re extending their farmstead hours and offering free delivery for orders of $25 or more.

“We can sanitize before and after people leave,” she said. “ ... We have plenty of space that folks can spread out while they are here and enjoy some fresh air because I know people are going nuts.”

While federal, state and local governments are stepping in with financial help, there are also ways for families and individuals to pitch in, such as buying gift cards and shopping with them online.

Warren Jones, executive director of the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society, said the group is working on compiling a list of local vendors, so customers can contact them directly for their needs.

“Small businesses are the heart of our economics in our community and in our nation, so keep them in mind,” Jones said. “Please buy local where you can and how you can, and we will help find ways that we can connect our vendors to the public so that they can do that.”

Last week, President Donald Trump announced that companies impacted by coronavirus will receive some $50 billion more in low-interest loans federally backed by the Small Business Administration.

That would double the lending authority the government agency had in fiscal year 2019.


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