Gov. Doug Ducey’s order last week shutting down certain businesses came hours after Mayor Jenn Daniels made it clear to Gilbert merchants that they won’t be ordered by the town to close during the pandemic.
Hours before the governor’s announcement last Thursday, Daniels had posted on social media that anyone with a compromised immune system, older than 60 or who knowingly had been exposed to any illness should stay home.
“Our businesses, particularly our restaurants know this and I have seen them implementing these standards,” she said. “Measures like sheltering in place and closing public places could exacerbate the problem by not creating a population with immunity and to have someone reintroduce the virus to the community when these protective measures are lifted and repeatedly endanger our vulnerable populations over and over again.”
But her efforts were up-ended when Gov. Doug Ducey ordered all bars and restaurants in Maricopa County to stop in-dining services and only offer food and alcohol on a take-out or delivery basis.
Daniels did declare a state of emergency for Gilbert last Monday, closing municipal buildings through April 10 and suspending parks and recreation programs.
Hours before Ducey’s announcement late Thursday, Daniels participated in the first teleconference call with businesses to learn their needs during the outbreak. The governor’s mandate does not affect counties without coronavirus cases.
The intent is to hold the joint call-in conference hosted by the town and Gilbert Chamber of Commerce every Wednesday – or more if needed. Roughly 74 people participated in the event with over 196 registered. Participants were able to ask questions via phone or online.
“The most common question we are hearing from our businesses is do we intend to close,” Daniels said in the teleconference call with business owners. “The answer is ‘no.’ We do not intend to mandate closures.”
Daniels advised businesses to follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arizona Department of Public Health that recommended no gatherings with 10 or more people.
She also urged they follow procedures to protect the health of employees and the public.
Daniels said the town would only mandate business closures if the community’s physical safety was threatened or if the state or federal government ordered a shut down, which Ducey did some eight hours later.
“We want you to have all the tools you need in order to make sure your business continues,” said Daniels, who acknowledged the fear, anxiety and angst business owners were having during this time.
Daniels was joined by Town Manager Patrick Banger, Economic Development Director Dan Henderson and the Chamber’s Kathy Tilque, president/CEO, and Sarah Watts, vice president.
Officials directed businesses to the town’s and chamber’s websites for updates and links to resources such as the Small Business Administration.
The SBA is offering low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Individual small businesses in Arizona could be eligible for up to $2 million.
Michael Carroll, a tax accountant, said a number of his clients’ biggest concern was how they were going to pay their rents with retail shutting down.
He added if they can’t make rent, commercial real estate will be left with a bunch of empty stores.
He also said he’s seeing a lot of focus on restaurants, which can still earn money with deliveries, take-outs and curbside pick ups but nothing for businesses like local salons and mom-and-pop boutique retail.
“The point is not lost on us.” Watts said.
She said the Chamber is brainstorming and working with the business community on how it can help them on this.
Tilque said Tempe was looking at the rent issue now and what that city comes up with could possibly become a best practice for Gilbert.
“I’m not sure it’s the Town’s role to dictate that or take on the burden of alleviating the responsibility of rent,” she added.
Watts said the Chamber has set up community Facebook pages, one for businesses to share and access resources and another for restaurants and caterers to post menus and take-out-delivery options for the public to view.
A third Facebook page for Gilbert-area nonprofits has not been activated yet but would provide opportunities, volunteering and other support the public can do for charities, according to Watts.
Banger noted as the town approaches April 10, officials will evaluate if the closure needs to be longer.
He emphasized that town services such as public safety, water, permitting and inspections, except for parks and recreation, were still operating as normal.
Notices have been posted on municipal buildings and on the town website directing people how they can continue to do business in Gilbert with buildings closed.
Banger noted for businesses especially those that have limited their hours or have closed, they can call the Gilbert Police Department’s non-emergency number, 480-503-6500, and request extra patrol for their shops. The police chief has redeployed resources from other areas to beef-up patrol, Banger said.
Daniels said the town is working with every single business and resident who can’t pay their water or utility bills and noted utility companies such as SRP, APS, Southwest Gas and communication companies COX and CenturyLink have all suspended disconnecting services to customers who can’t pay their bill.
“We care, the town wants to serve you especially in this time of need,” Daniels said to the business participants. “You are not alone. We are all in this together.”