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March 18, 2020

Shop owner: “I’m praying that we get past this”

I’m a little nervous. This is my sole income. It’s scary.
— Regina Hilleary, owner of Art Custom Picture Framing
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Terrified, the Marshall frame shop owner has watched sales tank because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s off 30 to 40 percent,” Regina Hilleary said of Joan of Art Custom Picture Framing’s revenue. “I have had calls from people, seeing if I’m open and if it’s safe to come.”

Over the years, the shop at 8387 W. Main St. has endured assorted business challenges.

“I weathered the 2008 recession,” recalled Ms. Hillary, 57. “And we got through that. We got through the (federal) government shutdown last year.”

But she suggested the coronavirus could be more damaging.

“This is definitely different — customers not coming,” Ms. Hilleary said. “We had two days when no one came in. That’s rare.”

The Main Street merchant added: “I’m a little nervous. This is my sole income. It’s scary.”

To allay fears and draw foot traffic to the shop, she recently ordered a lawn sign that reads “Virus Free. Come in.”

Uncertain whether that will work, Ms. Hilleary believes she needed to do something.

“I’m praying that we get past this and people come in. I’m lucky I’m not a restaurant. We never have more than 10 people at a time.”

Virginia on Tuesday issued an order that allows authorities to enforce a ban that prohibits more than 10 patrons in places such as restaurants, fitness centers and theaters.

Joe’s Pizza at 8349 W. Main St. closed Monday but continues to fill take-out orders and deliver food to homes and businesses, owner Joe Di Lisi said.

Business began to dip on Monday, said Mr. Di Lisi, who can seat 56 people inside the restaurant and 14 on the patio.

He described the decision to close the restaurant as the responsible and obvious thing to do.

“If we want to slow down this virus, we should listen to the people in charge,” said Mr. Di Lisi, 31.

Joe’s Pizza has five employees, including two servers who could be laid off, he said.

“We’re having that discussion,” Mr. Di Lisi said. “There’s the possibility of giving a two-week break.”

Like many food purveyors, The Whole Ox at 8357 W. Main St. also has changed its business model because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The full-service butcher this week suspended lunch service, dramatically limited walk-in customer access and will focus its efforts on curbside pickup and delivery options.

But by week’s end, no customers probably will be permitted in the shop, co-owner Amanda Luhowiak said.

But The Whole Ox staff will shop for customers who call in orders and schedule a time for pickup.

“We would like to see all orders called in and paid by credit card” over the phone “so we can pre-package,” her husband and co-owner Derek Luhowiak explained.

That approach will help keep the staff and customers “safe,” the couple added.

For several reasons, The Whole Ox has thrived since the coronavirus started to take hold, according to the couple.

Many people who avoid eating out because of fear “are cooking at home more” and increasingly have relied on the shop for food, they said.

Also, families with “kids who come home from school” buy more at the shop to put bigger meals on the table, Ms. Luhowiak said.

“Our business has increased in volume almost to the point of absurdity,” said Mr. Luhowiak, who estimated it has jumped about 65 percent. “We’re just running constantly to provide people with food.”

He partly attributed that rise to the closure of Gentle Harvest, an organic/humane food market and café across the street from the butcher that shut a few weeks ago

After Gentle Harvest opened in 2016 at the former Marshall National Bank headquarters building, Whole Ox sales dropped about 20 percent, Mr. Luhowiak said.

“We’ve gained that back since the closure” of Gentle Harvest, he said.

The Whole Ox has about 12 employees — none of whom will be laid off or get hours cut, for the time being, the Luhowiaks said.

The couple believes the shop will continue to meet the community’s food needs.

“We have a very healthy supply line with local farmers,” Mr. Luhowiak said. “Our hope is to continue to supply the community with food, with little or no interruption.”

The effects of some crises can be slow to catch up with service businesses, said Frank Foley, owner of L.J. Foley Plumbing & Heating Inc. in Warrenton.

His company owns Cooley Service Co. at 8386 W. Main St. in Marshall.

“I don’t know that we’ve had enough time to recognize it,” Mr. Foley, 73, said of the coronavirus pandemic during an interview at the Cooley office.

But office manager Wyndale Thompson, 63, disagrees.

Ms. Thompson started working at Cooley’s five years ago.

“I’ve never come in here on a Monday and the phone hasn’t run for the first two hours,” she said. “And that’s what we had yesterday.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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