Dozens of Daviess County businesses have been trying to get back into operation this week as Governor Eric Holcomb has loosened some of the restrictions in his stay at home order.
Getting back into business has been at best challenging for some operations and very difficult for others. One of those struggling with reopening has been Ponderosa.
“We are temporarily closed in Washington and we have our building and property for sale,” said Kye Hoffman, owner. “This is just such an unusual time, but with all of the rules and regulations we didn’t feel we had the staffing to convert into something that was not our normal buffet.”
About 30 people were working at the Ponderosa before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“Even when we were closed down, we kept our managers on salary,” said Hoffman. “When we reopened our Vincennes restaurant, we offered all of them jobs. Some took them and others said working in Vincennes wasn’t for them.”
Currently the future of the Washington Ponderosa remains in the air.
“We are exploring all of our options,” said Hoffman. “Washington has been very good to us. As a company, though, we are trying to survive and move forward.”
Does moving forward mean a possible other chance for the Washington operation?
“No one thought that when we had to close it would last for two months,” said Hoffman. “There are still so many unknowns out there it is difficult to predict what we will do. If the economy picks up and continues to expand without more people getting sick, we might consider it. We are trying to assess a moving target and there are just too many things that we don’t know. What we do know is a restaurant operating at 50 to 75 percent capacity doesn’t make any money.”
Ponderosa is one of just a small number of businesses not currently trying to reopen on the back side of the pandemic. One small business, Perk Up, a coffee shop in the Cherry Tree Plaza appears to have closed. The doors were locked and the phone has been disconnected.
Among some of the larger businesses in the county, the word is they are mostly back to work but struggling.
“What I am hearing is our businesses are hanging on, but they are saying they need help,” said Bryant Niehoff, executive director for the Daviess County Economic Development Corporation. “But I also know they are reaching out to take full advantage of all of the resources being offered to them.”
Niehoff says the uncertainty that businesses are facing is affecting their operations. Not only is there uncertainty in the economy, but there is also uncertainty on what will happen next with the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is tough right now but these businesses are hanging on,” he said. “It is going to take awhile for all of this to shake out. It may continue until we have a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 available.”
Daviess County is in the process of putting together some additional aid to businesses in the community. The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs has announced a $160,000 grant for Daviess County. That grant is expected to go toward helping businesses impacted by the coronavirus. This week the Daviess County Commissioners approved an agreement with the Southern Indiana Development Commission to handle compliance with the grant while the Economic Development Commission will handle the operation of the grant.
“We are working on the details on this grant,” said Niehoff. “Setting up the policies and how we will score the applications. We hope to get that done and ready to go by the time the actual money arrives from the state.”
Niehoff says the one thing he believes is that a large part of the county’s business is going to survive COVID-19.
“Businesses in Daviess County have a track record of being resilient and adaptive,” he said. “I suspect that if the coronavirus is cutting into their business then they will find a way to work some kind of niche that will help keep them going.”
Meanwhile, a prospective project in northern Daviess County remains on hold for now because of the coronavirus.
Just as the pandemic began to hit, officials from Elnora began discussions about a possible annexation that would allow for the expansion of infrastructure to the I-69 interchange that would hopefully lead to some new development there.
The proposal had just about reached the public hearing stage when the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold.
“We need to have the public hearings to be held before this goes any further,” said Niehoff. “We have held some talks behind the scenes with officials in Elnora and Odon about that exit, but there will be absolutely no action on the project until we speak with the land owners who would be impacted by the annexation. We want everyone to know what we are doing.”