Cleveland Local Businesses Reach Out in Tough Times

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the Ohio economy has taken a hard hit in many areas. According to the Brookings Institute, “a city that generates the majority of its revenue from sales or income taxes will be hit hard and immediately, a city that relies on property taxes, however, will not experience such an immediate collapse in its revenues.” Cleveland is a city that relies heavily on income tax for its general fund revenue and has certainly felt the effects of businesses shutdown meaning employee  income to tax. 

The Economy

 The stay at home order enacted on March 22nd in Ohio has had a clear effect on the sales and income-tax driven economy. Gas prices have dropped as low as 67.9 cents in some cities, mortgage rates are at record lows, yet, despite the stay at home order many real estate agencies are actually busy. As of March, the Cleveland unemployment rate reached 7.3% and analysts believe that cities like Cleveland will really see the impact of this job loss within a month or so.

Courtesy Brookings Institute

Cleveland’s local, small businesses are at high risk of negative impact. In fact, surveys have shown that about a third of small business owners don’t think their businesses will survive the pandemic.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has been working to implement various economic development resources to protect Cleveland’s businesses. One program will grant a loan up to $10,000 with no fees, interest, or payments due until January 1, 2021. After that, payments of $150/month with a 1% interest rate can be made until repaid. Previously, the city introduced a legislation allowing for a six-month deferral on payments for economic development loans the city already issued.

Despite the risks, many local businesses – particularly restaurants which are still allowed to operate carry out under the stay at home order – continue to serve their loyal customers, and in some cases, the community.

Giving Back

One Cleveland restaurant has been leading the way for its generosity in giving back to the community and its own employees.

Saucy Brew Works, or Saucy, as the locals call it, is a Cleveland fan-favorite. The brewery opened just under three years ago but has since been voted best brewery in Cleveland. It teamed up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and even has plans to expand, opening another restaurant in Cleveland and one in Columbus. But the brewery shines for a different reason during the pandemic.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics April report, about 417,000 Americans lost their jobs in food and bar service. That makes up roughly 60 percent of total job losses for the month.

Saucy’s owners understand that, for those who rely heavily on jobs where tips make up a hefty amount of their income, times are extra tough. Even for those in food service still working through the pandemic are required to operate take-out only. When people aren’t dining in, there is simply a lack of tips. And that’s why Saucy created the Cleveland Tip Jar.

Courtesy Saucy Brew Works

Cleveland Tip Jar

“We knew pretty quickly this Virus was going to be devastating to the restaurant/brewery/service industry,” said Saucy Brew Works owner Brent Zimmerman. “Our first thought was the employees we were going to have to lay off, and what we could do for them immediately. Then we took a step back and said- this is much bigger than just Saucy. What can we do to help out our fellow peers in the industry?”

Any service workers can add themselves to the Cleveland Tip Jar list. The website states: “All workers who normally rely on tips are welcome. Service industries include food service, hospitality, personal care service and more.”

Once someone registers to the Tip Jar, they can link their PayPal, Venmo, or CashApp and receive virtual “tips.” Community members who want to donate can go on the website and search for a specific service worker to donate to or simply pick someone at random.

According to Zimmerman, nearly 8,000 tips have been given and a rough estimate of the total donated is more than $75,000. And the donations don’t stop there. Saucy Brew Works has already matched $10,800 donated to its employees.

One Cleveland Tip Jar recipient is Saucy Brew Works employee, Jared Sansonette. He works behind the bar and has been out of work for over a month because of the virus. He says that about 70% of his income comes from tips, and the Tip Jar has helped supplement his income during these uncertain times.

“I’ve received around $250 from the virtual tip jar so far. One gentleman even gave me $50,” Sansonette said, “on top of that, I’ve gotten $200 from Saucy matching tips, and there’s still more coming in.”

While everyone is in isolation, Sansonette says it has been a reminder that we’re all in this together.

“It’s crazy because, some of these people don’t even know me…yet they’re willing to help me out, when for all I know money is tight for them too. Think about it. I didn’t actually serve these people, they’re tipping me out of their own generosity. It brings out the good in people, and it feels good knowing people out there care. I think we all need that reminder sometimes,” he said.

Salad KraZe prepares a 75 meal order for Meals on Wheels (Courtesy Salad KraZe)

All Businesses, Big and Small

The pandemic does appear to bring out some good in the world, as Saucy isn’t alone in community outreach work. Many businesses have followed suit, even smaller businesses.

Tucked away in the small Cleveland suburb of Avon Lake is another local favorite, Salad KraZe. The health-food restaurant may be small in size but is leaving a big impact. The restaurant dedicated a day to giving free meals to health care workers, and is considering doing it again. Salad KraZe owner, Scott Rush, says it’s his way of saying “thank you!”

“For me it only makes sense to give back to the care workers. They are the backbone of our society. I can’t even begin to think what it’s like to do what they do with all the circumstances and risks. I have a large fan base that is in the medical field so again, to me, it only makes sense,” he said.

Owner Scott Rush, wearing custom “Salad KraZe” masks with his employees (Courtesy Salad KraZe)

“It’s all been a very positive experience during all this. We’ve had many customers thank us for doing what we do as far as giving back. There has been a front page story written about it in the Morning Journal. Also, every 11th of every month we have created ‘Veterans Day’ where any veteran or active duty may select one free menu item of their choosing.”

Finding Positivity in Negative Times

Although the current state of the pandemic is often scary and unpredictable, the businesses of Cleveland are doing their part to spread positivity, help those in need, and find a way to say “thank you.”