Small businesses confront the first rent check day as the coronavirus ramps up in Alabama

Small businesses confront the first rent check day as the coronavirus ramps up in Alabama

The first of the month can be a stressful time for small businesses. But as the coronavirus continues to spread across the State of Alabama, April 1 is the first big test for many shops and landlords.

At Sweat Local in south Huntsville, owner Jeidi Pippins spent the past couple of weeks ramping up her capability to live stream her trainers’ classes for her members. As recently as Tuesday, she bought a USB mic to improve the quality of the video streams.

“[My members are] afraid to lose that anchor in their routines and in their lives and so we wanted to answer that quickly for them,” said Pippin.

She said she considers herself lucky because her landlord decided to not collect rent payments from the tenants this month because of the uncertainty that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing.

“Which is great, especially because my main scare is not necessarily these two weeks, this month, it’s really what’s going to happen in the next six months,” said Pippin.

Pippin decided to put the money she would’ve spent on rent away in a savings fund, in case things take a turn for the worse with her business. She said many of her members have stayed on so far and she’s grateful for that.

But with gym memberships being a luxury for some people, they’re choosing to avoid that financial add on while the COVID-19 continues to have an unknowingly long impact.

Tina Ayers, owner of the Fit Body Boot Camp in Madison, said that has been one of her biggest challenges.

“We’re in this whole new place and time. It’s April 1st, rent’s due and we’re losing members like crazy because they want that personal face to face interaction,” said Ayers.

She resisted the idea of doing online courses because she and her members enjoyed the in-person experience so much. But with the newest health order, she had to make a change to keep her year-old business afloat.

Her challenge now is what will happen with her rent payments. It’s a question she hopes to have answered by her landlord this week.

“We’re going to discuss all the issues and concerns that we have and where we’re at currently and ask for some potential rent abatement, which will just be tacked onto the end of our lease agreement,” said Ayers.

Commercial realtors said for them and other landlords, they’re taking the issue of rent payments on a day-by-day basis.

“You know, good tenants are hard to come by and if you have a good tenant, in our opinion, it’s much smarter to work with them and keep them because if you have to re-tenant the space, you have to pay more commissions. You pay tenant improvement allowances to retrofit space for new businesses and/or tenants,” said Bill Chapman, owner of Chapman Commercial.

“And once that starts, your overhead goes up and you have loss of rents, plus that cost of re-tenanting. So, in our opinion, it’s much easier to try and work with your tenants in the short-term and get a good plan.”

Even businesses that some people may expect are doing quite well amid the outbreak said they feel on shaky ground. Jeremy Sanders, the owner of All Clean in Huntsville, said the house cleaning business is a mixed bag right now.

He said that while exterior cleanings are doing fine, interior jobs are down, as is his overall business.

“I told my landlord today, ‘Hey, I can pay you for this month. Unless I get some assistance or some help, not sure I can pay you next month'” said Sanders.

Businesses said they hope the quarantine measures put in place help soon and that the restrictions put on them won’t last for months on end.