For Marc Lamont Hill, owner of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books at 5445 Germantown Ave., the decision to close its doors to customers was not easy.
Hill was forced to comply with orders from Gov. Tom Wolf, who recently ordered non-life sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to shut down to avoid the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
Hill is abiding by the governor’s orders, but said he is shifting his priority to helping his employees.
“We can’t throw people away,” he said. “We can’t say that we’re a part of the community and we want to support the community and when things go hard we become like every other organization, so we’re not laying people off, we’re not firing people. We’re trying to find ways to financially support them during this period.”
Hill started a GoFundMe page on Uncle Bobbie’s website to financially support workers, the store’s cafe and small Black-owned vendors in the area. He currently has 19 employees, including his management team.
“We started a GoFundMe precisely for that reason,” Hill told The Tribune. “It’s not so we can make money during this break, it’s so our employees don’t have to struggle. This wasn’t foreseeable.
“We could do what a lot of big companies do, which is don’t pay their bills and make everybody wait, but these are real people that we have real relationships with,” Hill added. “So, to not pay our vendors is to undermine and compromise the stability of another small Black-owned business.”
The Philadelphia Hair Company, at 5805 Germantown Ave., operates differently, and barbers only make money if they have a client. The barbershop closed last Monday due to Wolf’s mandate.
“Some barbers are not as well off as others,” said Mark Lightfoot, owner of the Philadelphia Hair Company. “Some barbers almost live haircut-to-haircut, not day-to-day. If they don’t cut, they don’t have money to take care of their daily business. I feel sorry for the ones that are not prepared.”
Lightfoot said he does not know what to do during the shutdown.
“You don’t miss things until they are gone,” he said. “One thing is your freedom to move, which you take for granted.”
Wolf on Monday ordered residents of Pennsylvania’s hardest-hit areas to stay home for at least two weeks to help combat the spread of the new coronavirus, which has already sickened hundreds and caused 11 deaths statewide. He also shuttered all schools statewide for an additional two weeks.
Wolf said the administration wanted to take a “measured approach” to the crisis and expressed hope that if the coronavirus could be largely contained to the most heavily impacted counties, he could avoid extending his stay-at-home order to the entire state. The order was to take effect at 8 p.m. Monday.
In all, more than half of the state’s population has been ordered to stay home. Wolf said residents will be able to leave their homes for “allowable activities,” including trips to the grocery store and the pharmacy. He did not say how it would be enforced.
Yolanda Blackwell and her husband, William Blackwell, own and manage Champagne Cafe at 21 E. Chelten Ave. They recently limited the cafe’s hours to abide by Pennsylvania’s new business regulations.
“We’ve seen 99% less of customers,” Yolanda Blackwell said. “We can only do take-out, delivery and UberEats. Our business has suffered greatly because most of our business is for dine-in service.”
Due to the outbreak, Champagne Cafe is only open Saturday and Sunday. Yolanda Blackwell also owns a daycare business, Personal Touch, across the street from her restaurant; it’s been closed since March 9.
“We’re staying positive, but I don’t know any business that can be shut down more than 30 days and survive,” she said.