Apr 24th, 2020, 03:08 AM

Coronavirus vs. Local Business

By Hannah Latorre
Sign in Minneapolis, Image Credit: Flickr, Chad Davis
Chez Lénard Selling Hot Dogs and Hope

Amongst a wide-spread and panic-inducing pandemic, one thing remains certain for the small town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Local business and community rise above in these hard times. Returning early from my stay in Paris was jarring and hard to come to terms with, however, returning to my small town where community and togetherness are evident, made my transition smoother than expected. 

COVID-19 had not hit Ridgefield in high numbers when I returned in early March, but since then, cases have risen to as many as 167 with a death toll of 23. Primarily, these numbers come from the town's nursing home, Ridgefield Crossings. In the beginning, most restaurants and local businesses remained open and cautious of the situation.  Nevertheless, in the next few weeks, as the virus spread, local businesses began to struggle. With a town that relies heavily on local sales and shoppers, Ridgefield's local businesses have been hit hard due to curfews and mandated quarantine. General panic and wariness of cleanliness have also driven sales away from local restaurants. 

Chez Lénard , Image Credit: Hannah Latorre 

Chez Lénard, the local hot dog stand, has been the cherry on top of this town since the early 2000s. Amidst the pandemic, owner Mike Principi is still open for business at the end of Main Street. After my two-week quarantine upon returning from Paris, my mother and I took a stroll along the deserted Main Street, ensuring the 6-feet rule was followed. As we were nearing the end of the sidewalk, I was surprised to see Principi standing under the famous blue Pepsi umbrella wearing his chef hat. I was wary to approach at first due to the mania and fear instilled by the media, however, I trusted that he was taking all precautionary measures he could to ensure his customers stay safe. After not having a proper Ridgefield hot dog in over five months, I decided to order a simple ketchup, mustard, and relish garnished hot dog. Principi disinfected his hands, wiped down the station and all utensils carefully before preparing my hot dog. 

On how this pandemic has changed the way he runs his business, Principi says that the biggest part that is being affected is catering;

"Catering is about half of my business and consists of youth sports, school functions, graduations etc. All my events have been canceled to this point and obviously no one is scheduling parties for the foreseeable future."

Principi says to make ends meet, he has been working more hours on Main Street. Taking over more shifts helps him save money and control  cleanliness to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

Open sign, Image credit: Flickr David Lofink 

Despite Ridgefield's pressing need to flatten the curve, some local restaurants remain open as they are a source of many people's income. Many restaurants have found alternatives by offering delivery services, pick-up and curbside transactions. Other businesses, such as small boutiques and flower shops have remained closed as they are classified "non-essential". Not only in Ridgefield are these local businesses being affected, but the whole country is feeling the financial strain as well. 

According to a recent Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,500 local businesses, has found that small local business owners do not believe they can continue operating amidst the current conditions. With certain states mandating non-essential business to close until further notice, tons of owners and workers are out of a job.  

Andrea Grix, resident of Pearl River, New York, has been out of her job at a local cafe in her town for a month. Grix says that Harvest Moon Cafe has struggled greatly since the recent outbreak due to the absence of catering orders and in person sales. Grix had decided to stay home to lower her risk of infection and possibly infecting others. She says she is planning on returning soon. 

"I am going back to work next Monday," Grix says. 

With constant change in this situation and many businesses closing until further notice, Ridgefield's Chez Lénard rises above and remains open to serve the community not only amazing hot dogs but hope. Many residents have contributed to local restaurants in the best ways they can to ensure that Ridgefield's charm does not disappear once the virus clears up. It is hard to say whether local businesses remaining open is safe. There is a push and pull between whether these restaurants should still be serving. Closing will severely affect the economy but staying open may contribute to the spread of the virus. However, one thing we know is that if you do not have to leave the house, then don't. 

While one would think a small hot dog stand would close down during these times, this stand helps residents and the community still feel some sense of togetherness and hope for the future. It is uncertain where the next few weeks will take us, but there is one thing for certain, Chez Lénard is open and Mike Principi will still be serving hot dogs with a smile. 

"Obviously, we are all feeling the financial effect of the pandemic and consequent shutdown, so it makes it difficult for some more than others. That said, we are fortunate to live in a great town and affluent community which helps in the recovery." Principi says. 

Chez Lénard remains open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. Please stay home if you can and practice social distancing when out in public. Flatten the curve and limit contact by contributing to your local businesses by ordering delivery or curbside pick up with limited personal contact.