Tan Do has been in the restaurant business for 23 years and his Skyway Wok restaurant attracts many workers in downtown Minneapolis everyday.
But he closed it starting Wednesday for at least the next week or two. Few people stopped in Tuesday and even takeout orders didn’t come after downtown offices emptied and state leaders told restaurants to close to slow coronavirus.
“I’ve not experienced anything like this before,” he said. “I have no plan right now. We don’t know where to start.”
Across the state and country, millions of small-business owners are in the same position. Attorneys, accountants and other consultants said some of the hardest work for business owners comes after the decision to close is made.
“I’m advising my clients to get on the phone now and call the landlord to say ‘I can’t make April rent,’ ” said Stephen Cohen, a Minneapolis attorney who focuses on local and national restaurants. “Maybe the landlord or the small business calls the bank about getting a loan.”
Dawn Cardelli of Dawn M. Cardelli Tax & Accounting in Eagan has fielded many calls in the past week from clients grappling with closing dates and cash flow.
“We’re suggesting that some businesses contact the banker for low-interest loans for cash flow if that’s an issue,” she said. “They can contact suppliers about short-term payment agreements.”
Small-business owners may want to read their lease for a clause about circumstances beyond the tenant’s control.
“Have your attorney review it if you’re not sure,” Cardelli said. One option is to have April and May’s rent put on the back of the lease, Cohen said.
A lot of the negotiating may depend on the relationship between the parties. A small business with a supplier that normally has a 30-day invoice due date can ask for an extension.
“Communicate your needs to get some leeway,” said Justin Sundberg of Sundberg Tax & Consulting in Minneapolis. “Everyone is hungry for cash now.”
Small businesses need to stay in touch with customers to keep money flowing in, but they need to be creative, Sundberg said. If meeting a client at your home or theirs isn’t practical, reach for the phone or look into videochatting. Co-work spaces may be an option too, but many, such as Work It in St. Paul, are only serving existing clients.
And don’t neglect the small stuff. Stop services — from pest control to cleaning services — that may no longer be needed if the business is shut down. Turn down thermostats.
After calling the insurance agent about workers’ compensation, help employees with questions about filling out unemployment forms online. Newer employees may need the company address and phone. Advise them on choosing “layoff” or “layoff due to coronavirus” on the form, said one small business owner.
“This is a horrible time, but small businesses cannot allow the fear to paralyze them,” Cohen said.