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Small Businesses Adjust To Big Changes in the Age of Coronavirus

Leaves 'n Beans Coffee in Peoria Heights
Leaves 'n Beans Coffee - Peoria Heights via Facebook
Leaves 'n Beans Coffee in Peoria Heights

Area businesses are working to cope with the “new normal,” life in the era of coronavirus at a time when schools and restaurants are closed with so many public venues cutting back hours and services.

Mark Wrhel, the owner of Haddad’s Market, 2407 W. Rohmann Ave., West Peoria, has seen business explode as customers have bought up groceries for extended periods at home.

Wrhel has taken measures to help his older customers. He established Monday through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. as a time for seniors to shop.

"Those are my supply days. That gives customers that are the most vulnerable [time] to get the items they need,” he said.

The market owner said he was disappointed that other independent stores in the area haven’t followed his lead to help make grocery and household items more available to older consumers.While trying to assist older customers, Wrhel is also concerned that this is also the group most likely to suffer from the effects of the coronavirus. “They shouldn’t be out,” he said, suggesting seniors call ahead and have groceries brought out to them in the parking lot or through home delivery.

Wrhel said he's trying new ways of coping with the crisis. “I’ve drawn lines in the parking lot where people can line up in order to limit the number of people in the store at one time,” he said.

“I can sanitize the store but after 25 people are through the door, all bets are off,” said Wrhel, who also expressed concern for his employees.

“I can understand the intolerance of some people when they can’t find certain items. People are scared but they need to give people that spend nine hours a day at the store a break,” said Wrhel.

The store’s hours are now 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, except for the 8 a.m. start time on Monday and Thursday.

Customers of Leaves ‘n Beans, at 4800 N. Prospect Road, Peoria Heights, and 730 W. Jackson St., Morton, also face a change in hours—from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Saturday, said owner James Cross.

His Heights customers faced “a shock to the system” earlier this week when they couldn’t enter the café, he said.

“We’re doing about 10 percent of our regular Heights business but I’m hoping every day will get a little better when people find out they can call ahead and get orders delivered curbside,” he said.

The Morton location is only off about 50 percent this week, said Cross, noting that the outlet has a drive-through lane.

The Leaves & Beans retail store at 4416 N. Prospect Road, remains open (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday), said Cross, suggesting that customers can also order coffee online. “If you use ‘RADIO20’ when ordering, you get 20 percent off shipping and we waive shipping fees or orders of $50 or more,” he said.

Travis Mohlenbrink, the owner of five area restaurants (Sugar, Thyme, Cayenne, Cracked Pepper and Industry) and a downtown café, said only a skeleton crew is now maintained at each location.

“I’m keeping as many people working as I can but I’ve encouraged hourly employees to file for unemployment,” he said.

“I’m just not sure about the future. I’m hearing that March 30 is probably not going to be the day we’re allowed to reopen,” said Mohlenbrink, referring to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial order for Illinois restaurants to close from March 16-30.

Meanwhile, Mohlenbrink’s eateries are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., offering only carry-out and delivery through Door Dash.

“This community is so good, so mindful of taking care of each other. I’m hopeful that once we get used to the new routine, more people will take advantage of the take-out service,” he said.

Phil Dickinson, owner of the Landmark Café & Creperie, 62 S. Seminary St., Galesburg, feels the same way. He said his restaurant is offering a delivery service is the first time in 40 years.

“It’s a good way to keep our staff of 34 people engaged. Cooks are busy, the hosts are busy and we’ve got the servers engaged as drivers,” he said.

“The collaborative spirit has been amazing,” said Dickinson, referring to competing restaurants now “exchanging information and bouncing ideas off each other." He also cited the city of Galesburg for putting up temporary parking signs in front of each restaurant to accommodate take-out business.

“We didn’t ask them to. They just did it,” said Dickinson, who remains concerned about what lies ahead for the restaurant industry.

“Unfortunately, this whole thing will get worse before it gets better. We’ll need cooperation between the state, banks, property owners and suppliers if we’re going to get through this,” he said.

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.