Local businesses face the pandemic

Although small businesses in Kirksville have been affected by COVID-19, the city has survived the pandemic with a 3% increase in local sales tax revenue. 

Ashley Young, Kirksville’s assistant city manager, said Kirksville has seen an increase in the local sales tax rate. 

“Local sales tax revenue is continuing an upper trend that we have seen in the last five years as our local economy has continued to grow and expand,” Young said.

Young said there are a few reasons for the increase of local tax rate from the federal stimulus to the psychological effect COVID-19 had on people and the construction of the High Prairie Wind Farm project, which brought approximately 300 construction companies to the town.

“Nonessential businesses were asked to close for a period of time so we can get a handle on this disease,” Mayor Zac Burden said.

Young said the students leaving early in the spring 2020 semester is probably the most profound difference. He said most of those businesses are still open and doing business, but they have felt the effects of the pandemic.

 “[The mandated closing period] has had a profound effect on Kirksville’s nightlife restaurants and bars specifically in our downtown,” Young said. 

Take Root Cafe announced it would be permanently closing Oct. 9. The pay-what-you-can restaurant cited lack of business as the main reason for its closure. Photo by Bidan Yang

Leisure World, as well as many other businesses, temporarily closed due to the spread of the virus. Leisure World Manager Tim Mckeal said they had to shut down mid-March because of COVID-19, and they remained closed for ten weeks. 

“We shut down in the middle of March for COVID. We shut down for ten weeks,” Mckeal said, “The traffic was way down, and luckily through some of the state programs and federal grants and everything we were able to at least get a little bit assistance there but we took a big hit on our budget,” Mckeal said.

Other businesses, like Take Root Cafe, were in the same situation.

“We closed toward the middle or end of March,” William Robb, Take Root Cafe executive director, said. “It became apparent that we needed to close.” 

The cafe reopened May 15. Robb said they were able to reopen because they got a Paycheck Protection Program Loan that allowed them to staff up and reopen.

Many small businesses went through a massive loss in a short time period.

“[We lost] approximately $53,000 in revenue, that is not net, that is food sales but that is a big chunk of revenue,” Robb said.

Mckeal also said Leisure World lost at least 50% in revenue. He said it was a significant drop and had a big impact on the place. 

Even after reopening, businesses are still struggling.

“Since we reopened, we’re tracking roughly what prior sales were but with about a 40% discount,” Robb said about Take Root. “So I think our sales, since we reopened, on average have been around 60% of what they were.”

Leisure World has also seen a similar decrease in sales, Mckeal said. COVID-19 is still affecting the business as far as traffic goes, as it is still not seeing as many people at the door as it used to. At the moment they have about 25% less than the usual traffic during a school year.  

Although most Kirksville businesses have been through challenging times, Young said no businesses have closed permanently due to COVID-19 that they were told. He said if any businesses have closed, then they haven’t reached out and requested assistance from any of the economic development departments. However, Take Root announced they will be closing on October 9, 2020, due to low number of customers. 

Students make up an essential part of Kirksville’s community and economy, Burden said, not having the student population from three institutions changed what the community is like.

Young said having students back helps some smaller businesses and Kirksville’s social life. 

“It has had a profound effect on Kirksville’s nightlife, restaurants and bars specifically in our downtown, and I would say that is probably the most profound difference,” Young said.

Leisure world is slowly recovering with more students coming back to the town. Robb said, they have been busier with college students coming back to Kirksville. 

Mckeal said they have also been through a similar increase in sales since students came back. 

“We were open three days a week until Truman came back.” He added. “We had a lot of students that are used to our normal specials so we went back to our regular schedule of five days a week.”