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Amid COVID-19 outbreak, some Billings businesses are struggling. Others are slammed.

Posted at 3:03 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 17:03:35-04

As local business owners in Billings respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, they are faced with tough decisions.

At outdoor retail store The Base Camp, owner Scott Brown huddled with staff members from both his Billings and Helena stores Tuesday morning. The day before, Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton had announced the one-week shutdown of all bars, restaurants and casinos in the county in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.

"We're trying to balance providing a safe working space for our staff, while still trying to serve our customers," said Brown.

Two cases of COVID-19 have been in reported in Yellowstone as of Tuesday night, and nine total in Montana.

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Brown had made his decision.

Citing the local effort to help slow the COVID-19 outbreak, Brown announced that both of his stores would be closed until March 28.

"The health and safety of our staff, our customers, and our communities are our number one priority, said Brown. "Our Base Camp crew is or most important asset, and they will receive full pay and benefits during the closure."

Earlier Tuesday the Base Camp sent emails to its customers with details about a new curb side service, but all of that is now on hold.

A Base Camp press release sent late Tuesday said "as this situation is very fluid, we will monitor and adjust our timeline accordingly, We encourage you to stay healthy and know there will be a time when our love of the outdoors and Montana unites us again."

Just down the street at the new Billings Evergreen Ace Hardware, owners Skip King and Jeff Averill said they are taking the entire Coronavirus situation "one hurdle at a time."

The Evergreen Ace Hardware store, with a staff of around 27 employees, had just opened the doors at its new location at the former Evergreen IGA when the enormity of the COVID-19 outbreak took on a whole new reality this past weekend

"If they will keep essential things open, hardware stores should be induced," said King. "We're not crammed in like a movie theater, but we did have to do away with the free popcorn."

Both King and Averill believe with more people staying home, it could actually be good for business, notably the fix and repair industry.

"People will have extra time for home repairs, gardening, and yard work," King said. "What we really need is some good spring-like weather to put a smile on everyone's face. This is America, we will survive."

Saturday was one of King's busiest days, he said.

"Our propane and batteries are two items that have been hit pretty hard, but we're still able to get everything we order," he said.

As for the new stores' official grand opening, that's been pushed back until further notice.

"We're taking a close look at our seasonal help," said Averill. "It may be prudent for us to wait on filling those positions, at least until we see how all of this plays out."

Both Averill and King believe their hardware stores can remain open and maintain the social distancing called for by the Centers for Disease Control.

"If they will keep essential things open, hardware stores should be included," said King. "We're not crammed in like a movie theater, but we did have to do away with the free popcorn."

Both King and Averill believe with more people staying home, it could actually be good for business, notably the fix and repair industry