Closed for Coronavirus

Chairs and stools flipped over tables at Relax, It's Just Coffee. The coffee shop has closed its dining room and are working as a take-out only business for the time being.

MANSFIELD -- Chairs and stools were draped over tables in Relax, It's Just Coffee Monday, following Governor Mike DeWine's order to shut down all bars and restaurants Sunday night.

According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics, in 2017, 258 establishments, with average employment of 5,272 people annually equaled about 10.6% of the local jobs.

"Keep in mind that this category includes more than just restaurants and bars," said Chamber of Commerce President Jodie Perry.

The order to keep those businesses closed except to take-out orders -- to discourage large gatherings of people and lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19 -- has business owners and employees concerned about their future.

"As of Monday (March 16), business is down 10 percent," said Paul Kemerling, who owns Relax, It's Just Coffee at 105 N. Main Street and the neighboring The 'Field Market. "On Sunday, business was down 20 percent, according to year-to-date statistics."

Both of his businesses remain open, with slightly different operations.

"It was actually a total surprise," Kemerling said. "We had heard like everyone else, what was going on in Italy and France, but for Ohio's governor to jump out like he did, it was surprising."

Fortunately, Kemerling said he spent some time thinking about worst-case scenarios for his businesses two weeks ago. 

"Knowing that the shop is pretty easily sectioned in two (rooms), I was able to close one side and make the other side carry-out only," he said.

The coffee shop is operating as a grab-and-go business as is The 'Field Market. Black Bird Bakery, a separate business which operates inside the coffee shop, is also grab-and-go. The businesses have reduced hours due to the change. Relax will close at 5 p.m. The Field Market will do the same."

Josh Arneson got a call from the head chef at Hudson and Essex, located at 51 East Fourth St. Mansfield, telling him the governor had closed the restaurant.

"I applied for unemployment today," Arneson said. "So far, I'm rolling with what the state is giving us as far as that. I think most of the workers at Hudson and Essex are appliing for unemployment."

"The Chamber (of Commerce) is working with other partners such as Downtown Mansfield and Destination Mansfield to respond as quickly as we can during this time. I empathize with the pain that this disruption is causing, but continue to encourage our local community to find ways to support one another," Perry said. "Be kind. Be selfless.

"Show the world the greatness of who we really are. We are in this together and we will emerge together.”

The deli at Hudson and Essex will operate a take-out service for two weeks to test out how well the operation will work. Only salaried employees will work at the deli.

Arneson, lead baker for Hudson and Essex, is not a salaried employee.

"As of now, the fact that it's a little unknown (when restaurants will open up again) is worrying," he said. "I'm trying to stay positive. I have a good savings, but I know other people don't.

"I think I'll be fine for a little while, but I may need to find another way to make money for the time being."

Kemerling said he would do his best to hold all 16 of his employees between the two businesses on the payroll, but depending on how long the public gathering ban lasts, he may have to start laying people off.

"We'll fight it as long as we can, but if business trends are down, I'll be able to pay less people," Kemerling said. "I just hope we can continue to do carry out. Coffee seems to provide people with some solace. I just think people are freaking out about this virus."

Perry said the shutdowns of restaurants and bars will create a hardship, but Richland County can rally if it works together.

"My grandfather owned a diner in New York, and I grew up working in every job there. I know first-hand what it means to work in food service, and can empathize with the stress that owners and employees are certainly having during this time," Perry said. "These are not easy decisions that have been made, but they have all been done in the name of saving the lives of our friends, family and neighbors.

"Many restaurants are offering take-out or delivery, and we encourage you to consider that as an option for your meals. Also, as you are able … don’t forget to leave a tip when you pick up your takeout as that will help the servers during this time of reduced income. We must find creative ways to help these businesses weather this unprecedented storm."

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.