The Covid-19 epidemic has created a serious impact on local small businesses and has left many owners with serious doubts about the future of their enterprises. While some businesses are able to remain open by making concessions, others have been forced to close with no idea as to when they will be able to reopen.

Among those business owners are Steven Fitzgerald, the owner of two barber shops in Egg Harbor City and Smithville, and Joe LaCerra, the proprietor of Hometown Fitness in Mays Landing.

“Since becoming a small business owner in 2017, having to close our gym is by far the most difficult decision I've had to make, but it's what needs to be done given the current situation,” LaCerra said. “I hate letting our members down, and like many small business owners, I fear for the worst in times like this. However, it's certainly what needs to be done.”

Hometown Fitness employs about 30 part-time employees, all of whom are on hiatus until the facility is allowed to reopen. “As much as I would love to lock in a reopen date, until we receive permission from the state of New Jersey and this situation is under proper control, we will remain closed,” he said. “In the meantime, I will have a lot of time on my hands, which will give me time to work on gym projects that have been on the back burner. We will continue to try to post daily workouts, nutrition tips and other things alike to keep everyone engaged during the shutdown.”

Fitzgerald employs six barbers at Lou’s Barbershop in Egg Harbor City and the Smithville Barber Shoppe. “This is a frustrating and scary situation,” he said. “While I have no income there are still bills to pay. I have a small business and thus am very vulnerable.”

“All of my employees want to work but that option is not available. My fear is if this goes on much longer that I will lose them as they seek other employment. One of my employees, a 22- year-old young lady, just bought a house and is due to make her first payment. She is terrified.”

“Ironically, one of the most important things we learned while going through training was sanitation. We make sure everything is clean and sanitary.”

While forced to stop serving customers in-house, bar and restaurant owners at least have the option to offer carryout meals to their customers. “My business has fallen off by about 50%,” Gennaro’s Italian Grille and Pizzeria in Egg Harbor City owner Joseph DeGennaro said. “Off premises corporate catering and in-house dining are big parts of our business and that has disappeared.”

“Thankfully, local residents have been very supportive and are ordering takeout meals. Thus, I have not had to layoff any of my employees. We have become more creative with marketing including offering take-home pizza kits for families to create the product together at home.”

Merrill’s Colonial Inn in Belcoville has thus far been able to weather the storm. “We’ve been very fortunate and have had a good response for takeout orders, especially for our chicken parmigiana and desserts” proprietor Angel Merrill said. “We do have a very loyal customer base having been in business for sixty years. We have also gained new customers.”

“We are trying to do everything right by adhering to the time limits, using gloves and serving customers through the back door. Our customers also like to socialize but we do it at the prescribed distance.”

Merrill said that she is very willing to donate pots of soups to organizations that are in need. “We all need to help each other at this difficult time,” she said.

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