Businesses fold as COVID-19 restrictions ease

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

They couldn’t make it.

Traderbakers Vendor Mall. Latin Cuba Restaurant. Market Street Barbecue and Salad Bar. Obermeyer Honda Yamaha Suzuki. Rue 21 and Villa Pizzeria, too.

As statewide restrictions are eased, these six Dubois County businesses have this month either announced that they have closed permanently, or that they plan to shutter their doors for good in the not-too-distant future.

The novel coronavirus attacks the human body. But widespread precautions taken to stymie its spread have also irreparably damaged enterprises that rely on customers and interaction to remain viable.

“A lot of the small businesses — the owners of small shops — are not going to be able to reopen,” said Jeffrey Baker, co-owner of the nine regional Traderbakers stores. “You can pay one month’s rent and not have any income, and might be able to make it. But if you miss two months or three months — you’re out of business. Unless you get some help, some relief or government money, or something.”

Traderbakers stores in Indiana had been closed for seven weeks before they were given the green light to partially reopen last week. The Jasper location, however, remained shut down.

That local hub of antiques, collectibles, clothing and more will never return. COVID-19 delivered its killing blow.

Baker explained that income had already taken big hits after big chains that once occupied storefronts in the Jasper Manor Shopping Center moved out. The old JC Penney left in 2017, and Kmart departed the following year.

Traderbakers’ struggles spiked fatally when the vendor mall was forced to shut down in March.

“So, this was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Baker said of the virus. “It just made it easier for me to make the decision to close it.”

He loved that store. It had good management, good help and more than 100 vendors who relied on the sprawling maze of booths for supplemental income. But after nearly a decade of business, Traderbakers’ time in Jasper is up.

The company’s two stores in Kentucky remain closed, as does the location in Indianapolis. Baker said leadership is currently “just playing this waiting game to see where this virus takes us.”

Latin Cuba Restaurant, located in downtown Jasper, has also reached the end of its run.

Once a regional destination for authentic Cuban dishes — the closest restaurant of its kind being located across the Kentucky state line in Louisville — now, not even two years after opening, the business is moving out.

Owner Yasel Garcia told of how the Newton Street establishment closed at the beginning of March so remodeling work could be completed. The restaurant’s liquor license had expired in September 2019, and revenue dropped by thousands of dollars each ensuing month while the spot awaited the processing of a new one.

Reviews on Facebook and Google show the restaurant’s sterling reputation. But in the months preceding the shutdown, it was making only enough money to maintain the business — not enough to save for the future.

As the days, weeks and months ticked by — and the number of confirmed local COVID-19 cases continued to rise — Garcia decided to permanently close. Someday, he would like to bring Latin Cuba’s unique, highly praised menu back to Southwest Indiana.

“It was a family business,” Garcia said. “And we will see what we can do — if we want to open another place here in Jasper, or in Evansville. We don’t know yet.”

Located in Huntingburg, Market Street Barbecue and Salad Bar, too, has called it quits.

The business had morphed steadily since opening in January 2018 — from originally housing an extensive soup and salad bar to later bolstering its offerings with barbecue and smoked meat.

There will be no further adaptations.

Given the current, climate of unknowns, leadership has decided it is time to hang it up.

“This year’s goal was to do the big push for expanding hours into more evenings, and doing an advertising blitz, and adding more staff, and just filling the dining room, and taking off,” explained co-owner Rachelle Rader. “And obviously, the shutdown and just how long it went really put a damper on all of those goals.”

Business came to a screeching halt. Carryout and curbside services just didn’t work at the Main Street location, and restaurant leadership decided to temporarily close. When ownership dug into the circumstances and limitations, they decided Market Street, which had been a community fixture since January 2018, would not reopen.

“For lunch, we have to be full in order to be profitable,” explained fellow co-owner Greg Kane, adding that leadership was looking at “another couple months of essentially throwing money down the tube.”

That, combined with the risk of having to throw away large quantities of expensive food and the need to execute a conceptual shift that would squash buffet-related concerns, caused the headwinds to become too strong.

“And it really looked like it was ready to take off,” Rader said of the restaurant pre-COVID. “And that was just really hard. But sometimes just the books and the facts make the decision for you.”

On May 7, Obermeyer Honda Yamaha Suzuki of Jasper shared a post on its Facebook page announcing that the Newton Street store will close “in the next few months.”

The post’s writer described a picture of a “for sale” banner being affixed to the Obermeyer pylon sign as “a poignant image of what is happening to small family businesses during these unprecedented times.”

Rue 21 in Jasper also won’t reopen. The clothing store’s permanent closure was announced Wednesday on the Germantown Shopping Center’s Facebook page.

Villa Pizzeria, located on Third Avenue adjacent to the Riverwalk in Jasper, has also permanently closed.

Also, the Mad Batter in Jasper announced April 1 its plans to close. The bakery closed later that month.

Want to share your small business story? Contact reporter Allen Laman at alaman@dcherald.com.




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