Small, big businesses feel COVID-19’s brunt

Street vendors are hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. (DG file)

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

The coronavirus disease 2019, which prompted local governments to impose restrictions on public activities, is biting both big and small businesses.

Vendors in the downtown area, specifically those in Iznart and JM Basa Streets in Iloilo City, felt the effects of the multiple executive orders issued by Mayor Jerry Treñas.

The orders cancelled school classes on all levels, suspended all major public gatherings, prohibited the entry of non-essential persons by sea, land, and air travel, and adjusted the operations of shopping malls and other establishments in the city.

Some vendors who were relocated to a vacant lot at JM Basa Street after the road clearing operations last year are now back at their old spots since Dinagyang.

But gone are their usual clients what with the travel restrictions imposed by the city.

Neneng, a 60-year-old fruit vendor who crosses from Guimaras daily, said she never experienced a crunch this hard since she started selling fruits 35 years ago.

“This seems to be the hardest time for us,” she shared, “because even then business was good, but because of the [COVID-19] there are very few people roaming the streets, it really affected us,” she said.

She said she was forced to roam the downtown to peddle her fruits because of fewer buyers.

“I needed to put my fruits in packs and go around to sell them because my family needed it. My children do not have a stable source of income as well, so my grandchildren also depend on the income that I make.”

Every day she brings her fruits from Guimaras to the city, but this week was different for her.

“From the docks in Guimaras to the terminal in Iloilo, we had to conduct a temperature check, and even if only one had a fever, the rest of us had to undergo quarantine or self-quarantine.”

Susie, a 57-year-old jeweler from Guimaras but now resides in Molo, has been selling in the downtown area for 46 years.

Since the start of the anti-COVID-19 measures, she lost three-fourths or 75 percent of her usual income.

“Usually, on a normal day, I earn P700 as my income, but my average income these past three days was at P150 only. Because I sell mainly jewelry, my regular customers are from the interior, and now that they’ve stopped going outside, I feel like I have nothing to sell anymore,” Susie said.

Their way of life was also affected by the restrictions.

“Now we depend on arroz caldo in the morning and lugaw (porridge) in the evening, and we resort to boiling water and cooling it down to drink instead of having to buy mineral water from the nearest store because we have to catch up on our supply of alcohol and soap which ran out in the last few days,” she lamented.



Emma, a 65-year-old seller of various ready-to-wear items along with her sister, said she had no choice but to continue with her business because her family depended on her.

“Our neighbors tell us, and the City Government tells us too, that we have to stop selling for a couple of days so people wouldn’t flock. But I still have to buy maintenance medication for my mentally-challenged child, and food for my grandchildren and great-grandchild, so what choice do I have but to sell,” she said.

Emme said her income on the second day of the implementation of the restrictions was only P50 due to the lack of customers. They were also forced to go home as early as 3 p.m.

One thing that the sidewalk vendors asked for is additional support from the barangay and city governments.

Emma said they are disillusioned with President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against barangay captains for not taking any action.



Things are also bleak for big business establishments in Iloilo City as some were forced to shut down after their employees opted to stay at home.

Stores that opted to remain open have suffered significant losses in sales.

The owners and managers of some establishments agreed to share their experiences with Daily Guardian provided they remain anonymous.

One restaurant in Jaro district continued operating, but with a skeletal workforce due to the low sales in the past two days.

“I didn’t want to resort to having a skeletal workforce in place. But our sales in the past two days have led me to divide the restaurant into teams and extend other employees’ days off,” the restaurant manager said.

They say they can’t provide additional benefits to their employees because it depended heavily on their sales.

“Thankfully, take-out orders keep the business alive, and we expect delivery orders in the next few days to help out with the recent losses as well,” the manager said.

When asked about the measures they have in place, “…right now what we do is disinfect the whole restaurant every 30 minutes before opening, have our waiters wash their hands every 30 minutes, and suspend all big orders and private area reservations.”

Another restaurant in Jaro also suffered losses in dine-in transactions but feels confident in take-out and delivery requests.

“People started to be afraid to go out and classes were cancelled, so it was inevitable for our business to suffer losses. Our dine-in sales dropped 75% from our usual sales, however, our deliveries increased by around 20-30%,” according to the restaurant owner, who also reluctantly took measures to ensure workers’ and customers’ safety.

“We are closing for dine-in, we will be only for takeout and delivery. This is to ensure the safety of my team. We have also implemented a social distancing system for our delivery and pickup wherein my team won’t have to closely communicate with outside people, aside from regular sanitation and disinfecting,” he said.

Employees will still be paid regularly while maintaining minimum physical contact with customers and providing additional necessities to employees.

The owner said he remains positive because the experience taught him a lesson.

“Most likely the gain for me as a business owner is experience. For me to be placed in situations like these at a really early phase of my business career can, for sure, induce panic and frustration on my part. But I slowly take measures in order to cope despite the ordeal and should there be another similar situation that arises, I kinda know what to do now. But I think, negatively, being a small business, a new one for that matter, it affects us in a way that we are not financially stable to be able to handle such problem,” he said.