How Ashland County businesses are adapting during COVID-19 pandemic

The+Black+Fork+Bistro+in+Loudonville+is+currently+offering+carry-out+only+and+is+open+Tuesday-Saturday%2C+11+a.m.-7+p.m.

The Black Fork Bistro Facebook page

The Black Fork Bistro in Loudonville is currently offering carry-out only and is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Grace Scarberry

While Ashland University students were on spring break, their time was spent enjoying beaches, warm weather and good food. They rushed off of airplanes to get to the countless luxuries they had been dreaming of for weeks. They did not have a care in the world and for many, their last thought was the risk of COVID-19.

Homework, essays and notebooks were tucked away only to be replaced with cameras, swim-suits and sunscreen. 

However, that was the first week of March and the Coronavirus had been in the United States since January 20.

People shoved the risks aside and went about their business as the virus latched on to hands, steering wheels, bags, groceries and door handles and crept from state to state.

This has come to impact the way local businesses in Ashland County operate.

Miranda Crow, Manager of Stake’s Shortstop, a gas station in Loudonville, shared how the virus has specifically impacted the family business.

“The business as a whole has been dramatically affected,” Crow said. “We have had very little business during the weekdays and have been quite busy on the weekends. We have changed our hours accordingly. We open later and close earlier. It was coming down to deciding if it was worth hourly wages, and electric to be open for one customer.”

This is a complicated time for Crow and staff as tourists greatly contribute to their income.

Their busy season usually begins in May but with local campgrounds and canoe liveries closed, the town loses a great number of people coming in.

“It’s a scary time for us… This is when I’d normally start hiring for summer, but we’ve actually laid a couple people off,” Crow said. “It’s really unfortunate, because our employees are family, but we knew it was best. Some of our employees have underlying health issues, and that is a big concern for us since we work with the public, and one of the dirtiest things in the world: money.”

 Once schools and other local restaurants shut down, Crow knew she needed to offer new ideas to the Loudonville community.

“I suggested running a pizza deal to bring in customers and to help families have an affordable meal. When bars shut down, we had extra beer deliveries to help accommodate customers as well,” she said. “Gas is cheaper than it’s been in years, and I’ve been watching the market and making sure we have plenty of gas in our tanks at all times to ensure our customers are taken care of.”

Stakes Shortstop does not currently have any online ordering, apps or delivery due to the cost of insurance, but they are offering over the phone ordering and processing of credit cards to make for a safer and smoother process.

“We will also bring food and grocery items out to the customer’s car. We have had people call in, and we shop for them then they come inside, pay and pick up their items,” Crow said.

Crow said they currently have plexiglass partitions separating workers from customers, in and out doors to keep the customers moving in one direction, tape establishing six feet indicating where customers should stand to maintain social distancing and frequent disinfecting of anything customers come in contact with.

Gloves and masks are provided for employees to wear during their shifts as well as taking their temperatures before their shifts every day.

“It’s a very scary time to be working, especially with the public,” Crow said. “I urge people to listen and stay home if at all possible. We are so thankful for the business, but we don’t want to risk taking anything home to our families. A lot of us have children, older parents and loved ones at home, and we all need to do our part to stay safe.”

Taylor Starling, assistant manager at Village Point Market in Hayesville shared how they are adapting to new changes.

“When everything first came out business was booming for a week or two and we were ordering almost double of our product to try to keep shelves full,” Starling said. “Then we went through a good week where business was dead. I think people over shopped those first couple weeks so business died off while they were going through the stuff they already had.”

Starling added that business is now steady. However, the “sandwich section” of the shop has been affected most. They are only making about 30% of what they normally would have this time of year.

Village Point Market is not offering any sort of delivery or online ordering at this time, but they do offer call ahead orders and shopping right now in order for customers to spend less time in the store.

“Most of our planning has been done throughout the outbreak,” Starling said. “As new information is put out, we are gradually changing how business is done in order to keep our customers and employees as safe as possible.”

Their biggest change has been cutting hours from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. to 10 a.m.-6 p.m. They are also opening their doors from 9-10 a.m. for seniors and high-risk customers to come in and shop when their  store is not as busy.

So far, no employees have been laid off, but everyone has lost hours due to the changes.

Like Stake’s Shortstop, Village Point Market has recently put up plexiglass at both registers. They are ensuring employees wash their hands after every sale along with wiping down the countertops and credit card machines with a disinfectant as frequently as possible. 

“All door knobs and handles are being disinfected multiple times throughout the day. We have gloves available for people to wear as they are checking out and we are also in the process of getting face masks in as an option for our employees to wear,” Starling said. “All employees have been told to notify us if they are feeling sick and to stay home if they are feeling sick. We also ordered in a forehead thermometer to be able to check the temperatures of our employees.”

At this time they are limiting the amount of customers in the store to 15 and encourage all customers to practice social distancing when at their facility. 

On March 16, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the closure of all gyms, fitness centers, recreation centers, bowling alleys, indoor water parks, movie theaters and trampoline parks across the state due to concerns regarding the virus.

Shana Esselburn, an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer at Strive Health Fitness in Loudonville, provided her insight on how this news affected both herself and the community.

“The biggest challenge for myself as a trainer dealing with gym closures is not only missing my job and clients dearly, but it’s hard to not be able to have that in person contact with them,” Esselburn said. “I still keep in contact with them via text messages by asking them how their progress is going, how they’re dealing with the pandemic, nutrition advice and creating workouts for them, but it’s just not the same through the phone.”

Esselburn fears for her job when gyms are reopened. There is a concern that not only her clients won’t return but also members of Strive in general.  

“I love my job as a CPT dearly and worked hard for where I was at. I’m terrified that it will all be gone once life returns to normal,”  she said.

In order to stay connected, Esselburn checks in with her clients weekly, asks them if they have questions, gives them free workouts, and on Saturday mornings she does a live pilates class to compensate for lost time at the gym.

In order to help maintain any progress, she suggests getting rid of all junk food or tempting trigger foods, stock up on healthy snacks and frozen veggies, buy meat in bulk and drink plenty of water.

“As far as exercise, you don’t need all the fancy equipment like at the gym,” Esselburn said. “Of course it’s nice, but you can make do with your own body weight, bands and dumbbells. I also have told my clients to get their 8-10,000 steps a day in to stay active.” 

Esselburn is sure that, although strength may be lost due to the lack of equipment, it is still possible to use this time to focus on other forms of exercise and keep progressing.

“Incorporate more cardio, use your own body weight and different rep schemes,” she said. “Change up the lifting tempo and really put an emphasis on mastering the mind muscle connection. Also, just keep up on your nutrition.” 

Amongst all the negativity, fear and changes to the community, there was a shimmer of light brought by Dakota Zickefoose, owner of the new restaurant in Loudonville, known as The Black Fork Bistro.

Zickefoose planned to bring this new restaurant to the community starting March 31, with soft opening hours, spread by word of mouth to ease into business. 

However, this did not happen due to closures of restaurants and bars issued by Gov. Dewine on March 15.  

“The process to get to where we are now took over 15 months with construction, licensing and much more. Our initial plans were to have a soft opening from March 31 to April 17  where we told people by word of mouth that we were opening for dining to ease our staff into the space. Then the shut-down happened,” Zickefoose said. “We scrambled to hire kitchen staff to be able to do take-out March 24 until further notice. We didn’t get the opportunity to train anyone with great detail. A lot of the workers came in on the 24th for their first day and it was simply trial by fire.” 

Zickefoose had extensive plans to make the grand opening of his dine-in restaurant an exciting time for the community. 

“In a perfect world we were going to have a Grand Opening on April 18 with a band, balloon artist, face painter, skee-ball table and more,” Zickefoose said. “This was all going to be on Water Street beside the Black Fork. We had a date set with the Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon cutting and newspaper outlets lined up to show up for good press.”

Although this process has been different than he originally hoped, Zickefoose is receiving positive feed-back and lots of support from the community.

“We have done very well with take-out for the first three weeks, however, I do believe that we would have done better with dine in,” he said. “We aren’t selling any drinks and we have limited hours right now from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and only open from Tuesday-Saturday. Dine in, we would be open seven days a week and open later until 9 a.m. to 11 pm.”

 Loudonville Councilman, Matt Young, would like to thank not only his community, but all workers in this time for their efforts.

Young ran for council on the premise of a downtown revitalization and enjoys seeing all of the support for local businesses such as The Black Fork Bistro, Stake’s Shortstop and local grocery stores.

“I would like to thank all of the tireless workers who are battling through this COVID-19 epidemic. You keep this town and country moving, and I am deeply thankful,” Young said.