COVID-19 One Year Later: Impact on Indiana Businesses

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Thursday marked one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in St. Joseph County. It also marked a year of COVID-19 being considered a global pandemic. In that time, governments at the Federal. State and local levels all implemented restrictions on businesses with mandatory prolonged shutdowns, capacity limits and social distancing and mask policies that had to be enforced. A year later, Indiana businesses said they were relieved to still be open.

"It's never going to be how it was," said Ryan Smith, the owner of Smith's Downtown in Mishawaka. "We've done our best to make it through the best we can."

Smith said closing dine-in service almost cost him his bar.

"If we wouldn't have had the dine-in delivery or DoorDash and things of that nature, we wouldn't have made it through," Smith said. "Along with loans from the government also to help keep everybody employed and keep the paychecks rolling through all this."

For other restaurants like LaSalle Grill in South Bend, said the middle of 2020 was a dark time.

"Our 30th anniversary is about a month away," LaSalle Hospitality Group Founder and CEO Mark McDonnell said. "Last year, mid-year, I didn't think we'd see our 30th anniversary. It's a minor accomplishment in itself, but it's been an emotional roller coaster for me, my staff. The staff is not the same as it was at this time last year."

McDonnell said the struggles of the past year forced a lot of his staff to look for work elsewhere.

A year later, he said that normalcy that many have longed for since the shutdowns began is close, but there is still work that needs to be done.

"We're getting back to normalcy, I think," McDonnell said. "I'm 70 years old. I thought I'd be retired by now when I first started running a restaurant, but that also caused me to recommit a number of years into my 70's because there was no... I have a daughter who is reinvigorated into the business now, and I hope she will carry it on."

Stores also had to adapt over the last year including ones deemed essential by the State of Indiana like J.C.S. Fireplace and Stone, Inc. in Mishawaka. Dianne Sawyer, an office administrator there, said the community support has made all the difference.

We're a family-ran business here for a couple decades now," Sawyer said. "So, we just appreciate the support, customers being flexible as we try to create their visions and their projects and then working with us for getting it in there."

Michigan and Indiana businesses both faced government-imposed restrictions over the past year. Michigan's have been routinely stricter and more prolonged which caused complications and advantages for St. Joseph County businesses in Indiana.

"I think it's a hard thing about being a border community especially with different rules on both sides of the border," South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeff Rea said. "Obviously, the virus doesn't stop at the political line. So, you have had a fair amount of Michigan people who work down here, that shop down here, that eat down here that have been able to do that with less interruption than they would have up in Michigan. Turning it around, this week, for example, Michigan folks are saying 'Wait. We were shopping down there before. Now, as we're opening back up, come back up here and help us out.' We're all part of a pretty connected region. So, we really need the north part to be successful."

Rea said the biggest difference between now and a year ago is that the end is in sight.

"The fact that we're getting close to the end, whatever that end looks like, but as vaccines become more readily available and as a bigger piece of our population takes advantage of that, I think people are feeling that they will be able to get together again in the future," Rea said. So, people who have planned events, are starting to have events

Business owners said they have gotten used to things like deliver service and carryout orders, but once the vaccines run their course, they said they plan to "jump ahead" into the sense of normalcy for which they have been yearning.

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