Updated: Businesses Finding Solutions Amid Economic Uncertainty

Filed Under: COVID-19 Resource Center, Other News

As cases of Covid-19 increase in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker instituted a State of Emergency, effective today, halting our normal patterns of life and curtailing business as usual. Schools are closed. Public gatherings are limited to 10 people. Social distancing is the new normal.

Limiting public interaction has proved to be a key way to curb the spread of the virus but unfortunately, this has created some calamitous effects on the business world. Layoffs are occurring in many sectors, particularly in the restaurant industry where bars have closed and dining has been limited to takeout and delivery. Some businesses have shifted their workforces to remote operations, if possible. Small businesses, including movie theaters and retail shops however, often have had no option except to close and wait out the effects of the pandemic. All businesses are bracing for financial losses.

The changes in dining out and the need for delivery services have been a bonus to ROVA (http://rovahq.com), a Hingham-based business, which is on an online platform that connects independent contractor drivers with businesses seeking on-demand delivery services.

“One immediate impact we are noticing is an uptick in requests for food deliveries to customers from restaurants, because one of the provisions of the State of Emergency is that there is no ability for patrons to dine in at restaurants – only take-out and delivery options,” notes Tom McGrath, CEO of ROVA. “Another impact we have noted: we do a large number of deliveries for pharmacies to individual homes and nursing homes. One of the potential challenges in our industry is that a signature (or at least proof of delivery) is custom. Rather than have recipients sign to acknowledge receipt of product on a tablet that has been handled potentially by multiple parties, we have modified our protocol so that we take a photo of the delivered product with the recipient in the background. No signature required.”

Bay Copy (http://baycopy.com) is a digital solutions provider based in Rockland. The company offers management services and  services to help companies organize document workflow, control printing expenses and minimize equipment malfunctions and downtime, a key service for many industries, especially today.

“A part of our client base is the medical industry (hospitals, health care facilities), and we are in contact with them frequently to make certain that their equipment is up and running, because this is a time when the healthcare industry does not want any ‘down time,’” said Ray Belanger, president/CEO. “Our workforce is stable, with many of our employees having been with us for more than 15 years, so we have a long history, good camaraderie, we know that we will get through this together.”

The insurance company RogersGray (www.rogersgray.com), with nine offices located on the South Shore and Cape Cod, closed their offices to the public, except by appointment, but the company had a crisis management plan in place that allowed for a relatively smooth transition once the pandemic started affecting the community.

“Our team has a mix of people in the office and working remotely if they had any concerns,” said Lynn Mason-Small, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “We did have a business continuity plan in place for this, so it was an almost seamless transition to move our teams to remote work while still balancing the service needs of our clients. Additionally, we’re about to launch a new chat, phone and video call service option for clients as well. This will help keep us connected and servicing the clients in real time vs. just emailing, etc.”

The RogersGray team also uses Zoom, Instant Messenger and other technologies to stay connected internally.

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit.

Dennis J. Swart is founder/president of DJSA Architecture, located in Raynham. A large part of the 15-year old firm’s business is design in the hospitality space, which because of the recent State of Emergency has presented some unique challenges.  The firm recently completed the design work for a Cape Cod hotel, but a couple of large projects have been delayed while management watches the unfolding coronavirus situation.

“Hotels have very few guests, restaurants are only serving takeout, and that poses challenges not only for what we do, but of course for the people who own the properties,” Swart said.

To adjust for this slowdown which everyone assumes is temporary, DJSA is also pursuing design work in other fields that may be less affected by the current situation. But they are also working with their hospitality clients to help do what they can in the present so that they will be ready to fully engage when the immediate crisis has passed. A big part of their referral base comes from construction firms so they are also using the time to stay in close contact with these firms.

On a practical level, they are gearing up so that their staff — design and others — can work remotely. While they have not yet taken that step, he anticipates the company may do so in the next week or so, for a period of time. “Technology being what it is, it’s easier to work remotely than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. We can still get our work done and be cognizant of the social distancing that’s becoming more prevalent.”

Transportation and Commuter Worries

Since acquiring Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Co. last year, the new owners have been making improvements to the bus line which serves the Cape and Plymouth areas, Southeastern Massachusetts and the South Shore, including providing direct bus service to Logan Airport and just recently,  T.F. Green in Providence. Then COVID-19 hit.

In response, the company has reduced its schedule somewhat to accommodate concerns over coronavirus and its impact on the workplace and commuting.

“We are looking long-term with our investment. We recently have committed more than $14 million in new buses,” said President John Cogliano. “We would be a lot happier, of course, if COVID-19 had not emerged as a threat. With that said, though, we are doing all the right things including the introduction of these new state-of-the art buses, and we follow a very rigorous protocol of cleaning and disinfecting each bus.”

The owners remain optimistic about the future of the company. “We are looking beyond this immediate crisis to a time in the near future when we will be providing regular, world-class transportation with a very full schedule,” Cogliano added. “We are optimistic that we will help make a real difference in the highway congestion that has plagued this region for so long.”

Nonprofit Changes Service Delivery Method

When the pandemic began to ramp up, Lisa Guyon, executive director of the nonprofit WE CAN, knew they had to remain in touch with clients and had to make changes in its operations, which depends on face-to-face consultations.

The organization receives more than 15,000 calls and walk-ins annually with nearly 2,800 individuals participating in their programs and services each year. WE CAN worked with the 118Group of Hyannis (parent of Cape & Plymouth Business) to implement the system.

“We’ve transitioned to a virtual platform to be able to continue to provide services without  women having to come into our office,” said Guyon.

WE CAN (www.wecancenter.org) moved its forms online and delivered consults via telephone or video conferencing, which also had the benefit of reducing turnaround time because clients and applicants will not have to print or scan the forms to initially reach the organization, and travel for both the volunteers and participants is eliminated.

“WE CAN will also be able to look at data in a new organized format, ready to export and analyze with a click of a button,” said Meredith Flynn, vice president of operations for 118Group.

Another nonprofit which deals one-to-one with clients is Independence House (https://independencehouse.org/covid-19-coronavirus-response), which provides effective leadership and response for the well-being and needs of domestic and sexual violence survivors on Cape Cod.  The organization reminds residents its 24-hour hotline (800-439-6507) is always open and counselors available to talk with clients by phone.

South Shore Stars, which offers early education and youth development programs for the communities on the South Shore, is focusing on support for families as daycare facilities have been ordered to close.

“No one is free from impact as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and that most definitely includes children,” stated Executive Director Sheri Adlin. “From the most direct action affecting them – that of the schools and childcare centers being closed – to other factors including not understanding why they can’t play with their friends or the 24-hour news cycle that many times may seem scary, confusing, and overwhelming to them (not to mention to us!), it’s vital that parents and other caregivers are talking with children and providing comfort whenever possible.”

The organization created a list of resources (available at:  http://www.southshorestars.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Reources-for-Families.pdf) where families can find information on talking to children about the coronavirus pandemic (with specific tips on talking with children with disabilities, including autism), food resources, domestic violence resources, mental health support, unemployment support, community services and lessons for children to continue daily learning.  “Also, as a way to keep in touch, our teachers are posting video messages and ideas on our Facebook page (known as “Snippets with Stars”).”

Grocery Stores

Supermarkets continue to be open and stores stocked.

Whole Foods Markets, which locations on Cape Cod and South Shore, implemented a number of temporary modifications to its prepared foods, restaurant and self-serve venues, including:

  • Temporary closure of hot bars, salad bars, soup bars and self-serve pizza
  • Seated restaurant venues & taprooms will close for in-store dining and will offer takeout only
  • Indoor and outdoor café seating will be temporarily unavailable
  • Self-serve offerings will be closed in additional departments, including antipasti & olive bars, acai machines and poke bowls

Customers over age 70, considered particularly vulnerable to the virus, can start shopping an hour before the market opens at 9 a.m. to the general public.

The company also announced it was giving hourly employees a $2/hour increase through April.

Check wholefoodsmarket.com for more updates.

Shop Online, Merchants Advise

One small shop feeling the effects of social distancing is If The Shoe Fits on Main Street in Chatham. Owner Ceci Hadawar closed her original store in Orleans last December, after 19 years, deciding to focus on the Chatham store.

“It’s a town dedicated to its merchants and has a lot of international clientele who frequent the town,” Hadawar explained.

While the store has had a minimal online presence prior to the pandemic, last year it launched an active online shopping site and under the current circumstances is encouraging its loyal customer base to shop online at https://www.iftheshoefitsonthecape.com/

Simon Properties closed its U.S. shopping centers, including Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis and South Shore Plaza in Braintree on Wednesday amid health and government officials’ plea for social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.

Banks

Banks are adhering to the social distancing mandates and have closed their lobbies. Customers can use drive-through tellers, ATMs and access their accounts online through their bank’s app and usually speak to a customer service representative by phone. Customers needing to meet with a banker for a more complicated transaction should consult their bank’s web site for more information.

Cape Cod 5 has formed a task force of executive and senior leadership team members who are working with support teams across the bank to ensure the continuation of all operations, while recognizing and supporting the individual needs of each employee, said Chair and Chief Executive Officer Dorothy Savarese.

The bank, which recently opened a state-of-the-art headquarters in Hyannis, has been transitioning all employees at its administrative buildings to work from home, with previously existing technology as well as the addition of new software, which will allow them to perform their roles remotely and continuing serve customers and community, she added. “In addition, vendors and partners with whom Cape Cod 5 and its customers work (such as real estate appraisers and the Registry of Deeds) are making adjustments to their operations.”

As of March 20, the bank implemented  the following allowances and modifications for an initial 30-day period: waiving all overdraft and uncollected fees, waiving penalties for all early CD withdrawals of up to $20,000; and increasing consumer mobile deposit limits from $10,000 to $15,00 per calendar month

For more information visit https://www.capecodfive.com/coronavirus.

The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod quickly formed a Response Team made up of senior management and key staff who have been meeting daily, monitoring developments, and making decisions on the safest way for our bank to conduct business.

“We have made changes in our staffing model and daily operations to accommodate the recommendations for social distancing to mitigate the spread of the disease and to allow for remote access for many employees,” said President and CEO Lisa Oliver. “We’re encouraging employees who are sick to stay home and those who become ill at work to return home. We do not anticipate any layoffs or reduction in pay as a result of any of the moves that we make in relation to dealing with the coronavirus.”

The Coop is also alerting consumers that a malware scam is circulating. The email, with subject “Coronavirus Updates”, contains a zip attachment “MyHealth.exe” and prompts victims to open the attachment, resulting in a download of the data-stealing malware.

“We remind our customers to follow best-practices when it comes to email messages from unknown recipients. Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails, be wary of email attachments, and do not reveal personal or financial information in an email,” said Oliver.

Seamen’s Bank on Cape Cod sought to reassure customers that their accounts were safe after stock market declines.

“We are aware of the challenges you may be facing as a result of the information being presented around the coronavirus (COVID-19),” wrote Lori Meads, the bank’s CEO. “We understand that there may be instances where you find yourself facing financial difficulties. We want you to know that Seamen’s Bank is here to help you, and we encourage our customers and community members who may be impacted, to please contact us and have a conversation on how we are able to assist you.

The bank urged its customers to utilize digital and telephone banking tools to access accounts online and noted they could access account information and make deposits and withdrawals at their ATMs.

“We want to assure you that your money and your accounts are safe. All deposit accounts are insured to the $250,000 FDIC threshold,” Meads wrote.

For more information, visit https://www.seamensbank.com/

BayCoast Bank, which has 21 locations in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, is also  working to ensure as many of their back-office staff members who can work from home are doing so.

“These have been challenging times for everyone, and given that so much changes on a daily basis we want to ensure that we are communicating with our customers consistently and transparently so they can be kept as well-informed as possible,” said Nicholas Christ, president and CEO.  “Our utmost concern continues to be the health of our employees and our customers, and we will continue to make our decisions based on what’s in the best interest of our community, and continue to strive for providing exceptional services and solutions to the community regardless of our work environment.”

North Easton Savings Bank operates 18 local bank branches and has also limited branch service to drive-up and by-appointment only. “Additionally, we’ve activated certain of our Incident Response Plan measures, including reorganizing office spaces or work-from-home policies, and converting meetings to video or teleconferences,” Rich Spencer, chief executive officer. “We have employed additional and intensive cleaning services and educated our employees on hygiene practices recommended by the CDC.  Our frontline employees, both in branch and at our Customer Call Center, are doing a heroic job of helping our customers to navigate smoothly through this situation.”

Restaurants

Rock Harbor Grill, located at 18 Old Colony Way, is excited to announce Team Tuesdays, where 100 percent of their nightly revenue on Tuesdays will be donated to their staff.  Since Governor Baker’s announcement that restaurants could only provide takeout food, most staff of 50 was laid off or have very limited hours. The restaurant is offering curbside takeout every night with their full menu (http://rockharborgrill.net/dinner-menu/) Their first Team Tuesday was held March 17 and was a huge success, according to owners Chuck and Meredith Konner.

“I couldn’t believe the amount of people that came out and donated. I was astounded by the generosity of our community and how they care for our staff,” said Chuck.  “People are good in times of need.”

As one of the biggest employers on Cape Cod, the Catania Hospitality Group (https://www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com/) said it is doing whatever it can to keep its staff safe and employed and to continue to serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes keeping the restaurants, open for take-out and curbside pick-up and customers will receive a 25 percent discount on take-out orders.

President and CEO Bill Catania said, “These are very difficult times. The convenience of picking up a wholesome, cooked meal can make life a little easier for some. Keeping our staff working is of the utmost importance to us.”

While complying with Governor Baker’s order to close restaurant dining rooms until April 7, the Hearth ‘n Kettle will take breakfast, lunch and dinner take-out orders by phone, and the Dan’l Webster Inn will accept lunch and dinner orders. Guests who are hesitant to come in can request curbside pick-up.

The Hearth ‘n Kettle will also be pre-packaging several of its classic entrées in “Grab and Go” containers that customers can heat and serve.

Those ordering takeout to bring to someone who is ill or at risk can get 50 percent off their order, if they specify upon ordering.

Both Catania Hospitality Group hotels – the Cape Codder Resort and the Dan’l Webster Inn are open and take out is available from the restaurants. The spas will be closed until April 7 but future appointments may be made by phone or online.

All employee health and sanitization protocols newly implemented by the Catania Hospitality Group are being adhered to strictly in the restaurants and hotels, including the taking of employee temperatures before they clock in, Catania said.

“We encourage all of our employees and customers to support the local economy during this crisis by spending your valuable dollars with local businesses. We’re in this together,” added Catania.

400 East at 1421 Harwich Road is reaching out to its loyal patrons and new customers during the restaurant shutdown. Owner Gail Sluis says the popular restaurant is offering a limited menu (view at www.the400east.com) available for takeout or curbside delivery. Call 508-432-1800 to place orders.

The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce created a dedicated page on its website (falmouth@falmouthchamber.com) to host information regarding the COVID-19 virus and there is a listing of restaurants that are offering takeout and/or delivery options for the Falmouth area.

“We are collaborating with government agencies, elected officials, and the Cape Cod and other local chambers of commerce to pass important information along to the community,” said Michael Kasparian, president.  “We are updating the website continuously during the day as we receive new information and updates.”  The Visitors Center of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce will be closed through March 31.  Staff may be reached by e-mail or by calling 508-548-8500.

(See continuing updates about restaurants offering takeout under the COVID-19 Resource Center tab)

Construction

Mid-Cape Home Centers, like many large businesses, is using its social media channels (Facebook and Instagram) to keep customers and employees informed (midcape.net).

“As we are all faced with some short-term uncertainties, we know one thing is for certain: Cape Cod, the Islands, and all of southeastern Massachusetts will remain a beautiful, flourishing place to work, live, and visit,” said President Jack Stevenson. “Our core values of safety and doing the right thing continue to drive the actions of our team, while we take many extra precautions to remain open for business, encourage social distancing, and contribute to the on-going strength of our local economy.”

The construction firm Acella, based in Pembroke, said its administrative staff have the ability to work from home and currently are doing so.

“We are doing our best to keep the wheels turning,” said Dave Dirubbo, president, adding that the crews are taking health precautions on site and keeping an eye out for anyone who appears to be sick on site. “We also looking at splitting work shifts, as well as adding hours to the job sites outside the city of Boston to take advantage of the construction shutdown in the city that was implemented by [Boston] Mayor Walsh this week. This is an ever-evolving situation, but we are doing our best to protect our employees, our workers and our families.”

Shepley Wood Products based in Hyannis has taken a number of steps to maintain a safe and healthy environment for our employees, while continuing to serve its customers.

“We have partitioned our staff in the office and have a large percentage of them working remotely to cut down on risk of transmission,” said President Tony Shepley. “We have divided our outside workers into additional shifts to spread them out for better social distancing. This scheduling also helps allow for some extra childcare coverage. Our drivers have changed the way they interact with our customers on job sites. For instance, we have come up with other means of signature capture to reduce the need to stand in close proximity with our customers. We manage our interactions with customers who come into our branches carefully by restricting access to just a few points within the company. We have asked outside sales reps, who would normally visit us, to limit their interaction to phone and e-mail, again to limit face to face contact.”

If you would like to contribute information about how your business is doing, please email us at news@capeplymouthbusiness.com


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