How Alaska’s small businesses are responding to health mandates and the novel coronavirus pandemic

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) State-mandated social distancing measures has meant the shuttering or restructuring of many businesses around Alaska.

The Little Owl Cafe is a local business in Fairbanks which has boarded up its windows and shut down most of its operations in response to state-mandated health measures aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)

Last week, Governor Mike Dunleavy announced plans for a six-point program for economic stabilization. One of the steps in his program involved relief efforts for businesses suffering as a result of these mandates. Relief efforts at the federal level have also seen a one-trillion dollar program for businesses and individuals.

But what does the situation look like for Fairbanks businesses?

Sarah Posma, the owner of Little Owl Cafe, says they began to make changes almost immediately in response to social distancing advisories. “We started keeping hand sanitizer everywhere and wiping down the POS system after every transaction,” she says. “People could come in and order, and take stuff to go, or they could call us and we’d bring it out to their car.”

Since the governor’s mandate shutting down all non-essential businesses, however, Posma has completely closed her store to all but online orders of foodstuffs and custom baked goods. This allows her to continue to pay her workers, who are still employed at the Café, as much of their salaries as she can.

“Any funds that are coming in right now, I’m splitting between all of my employees,” she says, referring to her staff. “I told them that I was going to apply for the SBA loan and see if we could get extra funds so that I could pay them when they were out of work.”

The story is similar in many ways for Stephanie Allen, the owner of Go Wild Juicery and the SunDog Crossfit gym.

“Right now, my sole purpose is just to be able to pay my employees,” says Allen. “It’s not to cover any of the other overhead, it’s just to be able to pay them.”

Unlike the Little Owl, however, Allen says she is debating whether or not to take out one of the loans from the Small Business Administration.

“One of them I think is strictly for payroll, that one I definitely will look at. But as far as getting, like, a loan, probably not,” she says.

Given her age and the size of her business, Allen says she hesitates to bear the burden of a loan long-term.

“We have a passion for what we do but we’re not getting rich off of it,” she explains. “I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m going to owe more money and struggle more than [people] already struggle as a small business.”

The fates of Alaska’s small businesses will be determined over the coming weeks and months by the measures state and federal governments take as they respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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