Jonesborough business owners gauge pandemic effects

Two people cross a mostly empty main street in downtown Jonesborough amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, March 27, 2020. Photo: Jonathan Roberts/Johnson City Press

A Johnson City Press survey found that 44% of business owners in downtown Jonesborough say the pandemic has greatly affected their business, and 27.8% say they are either a lot (22.2%) or a great deal (5.6%) worried about the future of their business.

“The COVID-19 virus is here to stay,” one business owner said. “My major concern is that the state of affairs will not change significantly by next year. With this being said, I am fearful of a continued shut down of town events and festivals — people are afraid but fearful decisions can do as much harm as the virus.”

The survey, which the Press conducted online, in-person and over the phone between June 24 and 26, asked respondents nine questions, ranging from concern for the future of their business, the future of their town and the virus itself, what impact the virus has had on their business and how helpful federal, state and local government has been throughout the pandemic. Of the 18 respondents, 66% were surveyed online, 22% over the phone and 11% in person.

While only 27.8% of respondents said they were significantly concerned about the future of their business, 50% said they had at least a moderate amount of concern. Another 21% of respondents said they had little to no concern about their businesses future, though only 11% said it would be easy or very easy for their business to survive the year without any major festivals, while 89% said they were at least somewhat confident their business would survive, barring another economic shutdown.

Perhaps a sign of the tough business environment many business owners find themselves in, 44% of respondents said their concern for the future of their business outweighed their personal concern for catching the virus. And while nearly 40% said it will be difficult for them to survive without festivals like Jonesborough Days or the National Storytelling Festival, some respondents said it was the right move.

“Our main concern is the safety of our team and our customers,” one business owner wrote. “For that reason, we believe large events should not happen unless in full compliance with the Tennessee Pledge. While the pandemic has made the business environment challenging, we are all learning great skills that can apply to our success in the future, from marketing, to e-commerce and online sales, to local delivery, etc.

“One thing is certain through all of this ... you have to be flexible and willing to adapt to the current situation,” the person continued. “For some businesses, that means moving from being open 5 days a week to being open 7 days a week. It means you HAVE to sell online... you HAVE to offer local delivery options. People can't always come to you... so you have to figure out a way to get to them.”

Another respondent said local businesses need to be able to adapt and pivot when it’s necessary, writing that “choosing to innovate and make changes to my business structure is how I plan to succeed. I am choosing not to be reliant on what my town can provide for me, but what I can provide for my town!”

Nearly 28% said they worried a lot or a great deal about the future of Jonesborough, with 83.3% expressing at least a little concern about the town’s future.

“The future of downtown is going to be dependent on local support because people are not going to be traveling as much into our area,” one person wrote.

Another person lamented what they perceived as “division” in the town.

“Jonesborough must work as a team to weather this time, whether you agree or disagree with how the town is reopening,” the respondent wrote. “The town employees are working hard at creating a safe environment and event that focuses on the town businesses.”

As for government response, 43% of respondents said the federal government was at least somewhat helpful in keeping their business afloat — numbers that were equal at a state and local level.