Columbia is home to many popular small businesses and local restaurants advertising a variety of shopping and dining options from bingeing burgers at Booches to fawning over fashion at Cha Boutique. On any normal evening, finding a parking spot in downtown Columbia would be extremely difficult.
A March 20 state-wide policy changed this, however, when Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) banned gatherings of more than 10 people to help combat the spread of COVID-19, turning a once bustling small town into one of empty streets and abandoned businesses. Then, to further lock down on social distancing, on Monday, April 6, Gov. Parson also issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Missouri, starting April 6 and lasting through at least April 24.
Gov. Parson’s policy changes deemed restaurants essential businesses and allowed them to continue carry-out, drive-thru and delivery services as long as they enacted thorough health safety precautions. Grocery stores are among others to fall under this category, leaving establishments such as Hy-Vee, Schnucks and Lucky’s Market open for business.
Senior Shanley Silvey has worked at the Conley Rd. Hy-Vee since August 2019 and said the company has made a lot of changes since the coronavirus pandemic affected Columbia.
“[Employees] are getting 10% raises through this month, free employee meals while we work, as well as 20% off groceries for, I think, only one week,” Silvey said. “We are allowed to not come into work until this virus is over, so we can choose to tell them, ‘Hey, I don’t feel safe. Take me off the schedule,’ at any time with no repercussions. We can come back after this whole thing blows over, as well as we have access to gloves, cleaning supplies, sanitation and are encouraged to use them even for personal use.”
Silvey works in the bakery department at Hy-Vee and said her job is mainly to package bakery items and put them on the shelves. With the initial rush of “craziness,” when Columbia Public Schools (CPS) moved to online schooling, she said she worked two 40 hour weeks, a drastic change from what she said she was used to. Currently, Silvey said, business has slowed as most people tend to shop online or have already stocked up on food and supplies, so she is now working closer to 20-30 hours a week.
“I kind of like to stay busy, so working any hours at all I’m just grateful for,” Silvey said. “I have been a little bit concerned about my safety. Just because the grocery store is a commonly visited place, and since there are cases in Boone County, that’s probably where I would get the coronavirus.”
She said despite her concerns, Hy-Vee is doing a good job at prioritizing its employees’ health and safety. Another familiar business, Andy’s Frozen Custard, has also taken precautions in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Senior Katy Miller has worked at the establishment as a general employee and machinist since October 2019 and said Andy’s Frozen Custard on Cooper Dr. has strengthened its cleaning standards.
Miller said employees must completely sanitize everything every two hours and have to wash their hands after every interaction with money or a customer. Additionally, she said, the seating area is closed, and employees “bag everything at the walk-up window, so people don’t feel like sticking around.” She said she’s been working 30-40 hour weeks to earn money for college.
“Working twice the amount of hours I did two weeks ago has honestly put a physical and mental strain on my body that I wasn’t expecting, making anything other than work seem impossible during my normal day,” Miller said. “Andy’s has been surprisingly busy for being in a citywide lock down, and while it gives me hope seeing so many healthy people treating themself to something that brings them happiness, it’s also really scary from an employee standpoint, knowing that I’m in close contact with hundreds of people every day for 40 hours a week.”
On March 18, CPS initiated an online school effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect CPS students and employees. Students throughout the district were required to check-in through online resources — Schoology, Google Classroom, OneNote — and periodically reach out to teachers.
Monday, however, CPS alerted students and families of a new grading plan for the rest of the semester, changing it to a Pass/No Credit system. Students in Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses, as well as students with grades below 60% in classes will continue coursework to prepare for exams, obtain college credit and potentially raise their grades; otherwise, work is optional. Miller, with the current intensity of her job at Andy’s Frozen Custard, said keeping up with her coursework has been difficult. Although she said “it could be a lot worse.” Silvey also tries to prioritize online school whilst juggling her job.
“My job affects my online school work a lot more than I thought it was going to, especially because a lot of online school work so far has been kind of last minute,” Silvey said. “I still want to put school first … so it has caused me to give up a few more hours working.”
Unlike Silvey and Miller, some students are no longer able to work after businesses moved to take-out and drive-thru only options. Junior Abby Baker is a hostess at Addison’s — South, a local restaurant with two locations, and has been working there since February 2019. On March 17 Addison’s changed to solely providing food through carry-out orders and curbside pickup, and Baker said this only allowed some servers and bartenders to continue working. Baker said she doesn’t have a job until the restaurant is fully opened again.
“For me, it is hard not working at all because I’m not making any money, which is frustrating at times.”
“For me, it is hard not working at all because I’m not making any money, which is frustrating at times,” Baker said. “It’s just important for me to save money for my future.”
Baker said before Addison’s — South, 4005 Frontgate Dr., limited its business abilities, the owners prioritized the cleanliness of the facility not only for its staff, but also for the customers. She said every 15 minutes staff would wipe down door handles and places people touched as well as clean tables and chairs thoroughly.
Co-owner of the restaurants Matt Jenne said the restaurants welcomed a record number of high school employees this past school year, close to 30. Sadly, he said, they had to lay off most staff members after the state-wide orders banned large gatherings and then issued a stay-at-home statute. Jenne said the restaurant needed to prioritize employees who used paychecks to pay bills because the restaurants are operating at only 30-40% of what they usually do.
“As unfortunate as it was, it probably made sense to tell [high school employees] first that they were going to be taking a break and hopefully be getting back to it whenever we reopen,” Jenne said. “With the amount of business that we have right now, we’re probably still going to have to cut even more because we’re not able to pay our bills going forward unless there’s relief from the government, which is coming, we hope.”
U.S. President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, 2020 in hopes of providing relief for American workers and small businesses. The CARES Act contains $376 billion to serve this purpose. Jenne said the restaurants have always paid attention to cleanliness and will continue to prioritize the safety of its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The precautions, he said, are not only to show to customers how serious the businesses are in combating the outbreak but also to remind the restaurant as a whole to stay safe, sanitary and “keep our standards as high as possible.”
“Since we went to curbside, we’re doing our best to be as little interactive as possible. So, we’re getting credit card information over the phone. We are having people waiting in their cars, and we bring their food out to them,” Jenne said. “This week, we’re starting to have — since the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] changed guidelines, we’re actually having our staff wear masks, too.”
He said he’s hoping to be back to normal soon, bring back a full staff and “have a restaurant that has people in it.” Silvey also looks forward to normalcy but said she’s working to save money for her future and college as well as to fill her empty schedule where a school regimen used to fit. She said work is one way she fights boredom at home.
“I think it’s important to continue working because Andy’s brings a sense of normalcy to our customers as well. That’s the only reason we’re staying open is so that the people who come through our drive-thru can have a piece of their regular routine sustained.”
“I think it’s important for people who feel like they can continue working to work during the pandemic because grocery stores are a very central business, and we need to stay open,” Silvey said. “And, myself, being young and not really having any contact with older people, I feel pretty OK, so going to work and trying to help out wherever I can to make sure people who need to go to this grocery store have the things that they need to stay at home and stay safe.”
Miller likewise enjoys her work because it keeps her spirits high during the day and allows her to maintain a semblance of a routine. Although she said the days are long and online school is often pushed aside, her job makes life seem more ordinary during this unprecedented time.
“My coworkers are some of my best friends, and I’ve always enjoyed going to work because it always makes my day a little better. With everything around me being so depressing these last few weeks, it’s nice to go somewhere where people smile at you and genuinely enjoy your company,” Miller said. “I think it’s important to continue working because Andy’s brings a sense of normalcy to our customers as well. That’s the only reason we’re staying open is so that the people who come through our drive-thru can have a piece of their regular routine sustained.”
How do you think people can safely continue doing their jobs? Let us know in the comments below.