Caronavirus Concerns Making Life Difficult For Small Businesses

By MARK EVANS

STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD

Many local merchants and residents had looked forward to the fall of 2020 as the season in which Ste Genevieve’s economic engines would rev into life.

The establishment of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park and the  Ste. Genevieve Museum Learning Center, coupled with the first full year of the River Rapids Waterpark, was going to lead to a sizeable boost in tourism and sales for local merchants.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has blown dust into the carburetor of the city’s economy.

“I was excited to locate on the edge of the national park,” Kandye Mahurin said. “I thought it would be an ideal place to capitalize on things.”

Mahurin opened Sassafras Creek Originals in the historic circa 1850 Will Brooks House on St. Mary Road, just down the road from the Amoureux and Bequette-Ribault houses. She and her husband did extensive restoration work on the building. So far, 2020 has been frustrating, even though the National Park Service (NPS), Missouri State Parks (MSP) and French Colonial America  (FCA) have been joining forces to give walking tours and to have many of the historic buildings open for guided tours.

“We see some people walk past and I’ll say they ought to stop in,” Mahurin said. “They say they will on their way back. But they don’t.”

She speculates that the visitors who are coming do not have the spending money they had in previous years.

Cindy Percel, who has launched the Rollin’ On the River Bike Rental downtown, has had a similar experience. She said she has received many compliments but few actual renters so far.

“There’s been a lot of interest in it,” she said. “They like the blue and white trike that I have, that says, ‘Beach Bum’ on the back. Almost everybody who walks by makes comments about, ‘Oh, what a cute idea that is.’”

Yet they don’t actually shell out the money to  rent a bile.

Shellie Schmelzle, who owns Rustik Sand Kastles with her husband Dave on Merchant Street, thinks the theory of tourists having less money on them could be valid.

“I think some people may be holding onto their money because they fear another shutdown is coming after the election,” she said. “They’re probably getting ready to start hoarding toilet paper and other things.”

“It’s very frustrating,” Mahurin said.

ONLINE BUSINESSES HAVE GOTTEN BOOST

Schmelzle said that taking the bulk of their business online has proven to be a saving grace.

“COVID, in a way, has actually helped us, because my full-time business is online and more people are shopping online because they’re not wanting to go out in the public,” she said. “We’ve been busier this summer than we ever have been during summer months. We usually have more tourists and fewer people online.”

During the shutdown this spring and early summer, Schmelzle was doing especially well.

“Tax season and that first stimulus check kind of came together and it really gave people a lot of money,” she said. “So they were just at home, buying away. Usually March is a very, very slow time for me, and I was busy. Even though my door is closed, because we’re not getting many tourists, I’m down here working every single day because we have that many orders.”

CANCELATION OF EVENTS HAVE ALSO HURT

Percel, who used to own a downtown bakery called Square Donuts, felt the cancelation of nearly all of 2020’s special events and festivals was what really hurt.

“I think it’s hurt the town, though, because there’s no events,” she said. “So there’s not as many tourists in town and walking around and shopping.”

“The events are what’s hard,” Schmelzle said. “We haven’t had an event since chocolate Walk.”

“Missing Jour de Fete hurt,” Percel said.