LUBBOCK, Texas — On Friday, the Lubbock City Council discussed at length how the COVID-19 or coronavirus health crisis hurt small businesses. Council members heard from businesses in citizen comments as well before their special meeting Friday afternoon by teleconference.
KILLING THE LIVELIHOOD OF SOME PEOPLE
“We’re killing the livelihood of some people,” said City Councilmember Latrelle Joy.
Non-essential business were ordered to close in March as the city and the State of Texas tried to slow the spread of COVID-19. As of Sunday evening, five people died in Lubbock from COVID-19.
Some non-essential businesses were called out specifically and ordered to close including indoor malls, tattoo shops, nail salons and others.
Businesses that sell food or other essential items were allowed to stay open.
Benny and Paula Jackson, the owners of Stems by Benny Jackson, offered public comments during the Friday city council meeting.
“We feel small businesses are the life-blood of Lubbock and during this shut-down, we are all bleeding out profusely,” the Jacksons said. “We as small businesses need someone to listen to our situation.”
“The ban on all businesses has allowed many big-box stores to be labeled as essential thus allowing them to sell all their products,” the Jacksons said. The big-box stores like Walmart and Costco can sell everything — even the non-essential products. The Jacksons cited examples like stationary, gifts, patio furniture, plants, pillows and more.
“Simply put; this is not fair,” the Jacksons said. “Big businesses can continue as normal.”
The Jacksons asked that non-essential products be roped off and not sold inside the big commercial chain stores.
PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS
City Councilmember Randy Christian said, “Those big boxes are winning, and our small businesses are definitely losing.”
“And I think as a community, we’re going to have to have serious discussions of how do we bring some of these back,” Christian said.
Christian said the CDC guidelines are going to stay in place for a while – maybe 90 days or more, he speculated.
“We’re going to have to address that, we really are. Or we’re going to lose lots and lots of small, medium and large businesses for our community other than those box stores.” “I feel it’s a necessity for us as city leaders to address that in short order.”
“I do own two small businesses here in Lubbock and they have been very impacted by this crisis,” said City Councilmember Steve Massengale. “I look forward to re-opening those businesses.”
“We don’t want to be known or go down as picking winners and losers with small businesses,” City Councilmember Juan Chadis said. He also said stay at home for the safety of everyone.
GOING TO THE BIG BOX STORES FOR FUN
Joy was critical of something happening at the Walmart in her district.
“It has turned into a place where families go to have a good time,” Joy said. “They sell toys. They sell clothing. They sell outdoor items. They sell something to fix your car. They have it all. And that is to the detriment of our small businesses that we have deemed non-essential.”
That not only kills small businesses in Lubbock, she said, but there are kids running around and entire families going to the store – in violation of the whole concept of social distancing.
Starting on Saturday, Walmart stores nationwide put new limits on how many people could come into the store at any one time.
SOME NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESS ALLOWED
Mayor Dan Pope said the executive orders from the governor split businesses into the categories of essential and non-essential. He’s not a fan of doing that way. Nevertheless, Pope’s emergency declarations in Lubbock have followed the state and federal guidelines as closely as possible.
But even then, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson has been looking for wiggle room to let at least some non-essential business continue.
“We are still allowing them to work, but to only work basically curbside – not to allow people inside,” Atkinson said. “We are doing our level best, as staff, to be as accommodating as we can without letting something happen that clearly flies in the face of the logic in those orders.”
Section 20 of the mayor’s seventh disaster declaration on Friday, ratified by the city council, does allow some businesses to work curbside or delivery.
Section 20 said:
20) Retail Establishments not specifically described above as “Essential” are closed to customers; however, the use of drive through Pickup, Delivery, and Curb-side Delivery for merchandise is allowed and encouraged, provided federal and CDC guidelines are followed, including affirmative steps to ensure that social distancing of 6 feet is maintained, including for customers waiting to pick up merchandise.
The consensus of the meeting on Friday seemed to be that more needs to be done. But what? That has yet to be decided.