BURLINGTON, N.C. — While many people are worried about keeping one job during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ian Baltutis has to navigate two.
He is the owner of Persnickety Books, which is a book reseller in downtown Burlington, but he’s also in his fifth year as mayor of that town. The two roles are different but related.
The store, which normally sees 10,000 volumes go out the door each month, is currently closed. But Ian hopes that’s not permanent.
“My wife and I talked about it. When this all started, and we looked at the finances for the businesses, and we said ‘if we don’t have to do payroll then we have enough in the bank to make it maybe through June or July, and it’s going to be us writing the checks from our pockets for the summer,'” Baltutis said.
The state and federal governments continue to roll out programs to help small businesses like his, but Baltutis says programs like Payroll Protection can be complicated.
“The idea is that they would allow businesses to finance that payroll cost and rent or other fixed costs that are going to be there during this time when sales are dropping to be able to keep their doors open and keep folks on the payroll,” Baltutis said. “The challenge we’ve found, as a small business, is we don’t have anyone to really navigate this complicated system, and it’s moving so fast that we’re struggling to keep up and figure out if we can even apply for one of these loans.”
Meanwhile, he has other challenges with his job as mayor. None more than simply communicating to a distracted public exactly what is expected and needed of them.
“There’s been a lot of confusion about stay at home. A lot of people view it as a lockdown,” Baltutis said. “So, from my role as mayor, we’ve been doing a lot of communication to help answer questions and let people know what they can still do: they can still go to the grocery store, they can still go to the pharmacy, they can still check on a loved one or provide critical support or go to work. So, we’re trying to bring everybody along and say, ‘No, this is really critical to the health and strength of our society right now and we need everybody to be working together.”
Baltutis believes, in the end, we’ll come out better for all of this if we make the right choices.
“When all of this passes – whenever that is – to look at the businesses in the community and ask, ‘What businesses do you really value and what can you do to make sure they’re able to reopen?’” Baltutis said.
See Ian Baltutis’ shop in this edition of the Small Business Spotlight.