How the pandemic is affecting a small business hub

It began with the loss of the cat café. Then the movies, tattoos, jiu-jitsu classes and yoga sessions went away, and the “closed” signs blossomed throughout the Clintonville commercial strip. Now, all that remains open are the pizza shop, the dry cleaner (with greatly reduced hours) and the beer and wine store, three businesses deemed essential by the state.

From Studio 35 on the south end to the Savor Growl beer and wine store on the north, the 17 shops on this stretch of Indianola Avenue are a hub of small business in a neighborhood known for unique boutiques, mom-and-pop retailers and other modest economic enterprises. 

In the Indianola shopping district, you can find a barber, a frame shop, a record store, an upholstery business and a bowling supply shop. “Boy That Escalated Quickly … Wash Your Hands!” read the marquee at Studio 35 in March, a bit of laughter through the tears in the midst of an economic disaster. Owner Eric Brembeck says he employs 20 people at Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse and its sister cinema, the Grandview Theater and Drafthouse, all of whom are laid off and considering whether to file for unemployment. “My guess is we’ll have three to five months of no revenue,” Brembeck estimates.

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At a March press conference to address the coronavirus, Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther said: “Our small business community has been particularly hit hard. They’re such a vital part of our community; 80 percent of our workers work for small businesses.”

One Indianola Avenue shop has benefited from the crisis. The manager of Savor Growl says business is up 25 percent, as residents on lockdown are forced to drink at home rather than at bars. But mostly the news is depressing. “We can weather the storm, for a month or two maybe,” says Dave Tabron, one of the three co-owners of United Art Jiu-Jitsu, all three of whom have other full-time jobs. Tabron and his partners are creating online meetups and social events for their members. “I believe the community understands the importance of supporting each other and the small, local businesses,” says Tabron, who works for Nationwide.

The Eat Purr Love nonprofit cat rescue café has found homes for more than 560 felines since opening in 2016. “We made the decision to send any cats without a pending adoption back to the shelter at Columbus Humane,” says Emma Walsh, manager of the café. “If we have all our animals in one space, there’s easier access for caring for them and medical treatment.”

Business is down about 50 percent at Clintonville Pizza Primo, says owner Eric Rummel, while the drop has been about 80 percent at Imperial Cleaners, one of the seven shops owned by Hazem Tleimat. About 35 employees have been laid off, and Tleimat, his wife and their three sons are keeping Imperial and the other shops open with limited hours, cleaning laboratory coats for hospitals and uniforms for first responders. “So many small businesses are on the edge of bankruptcy,” Tleimat says.

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