The Economic Impact Of COVID-19: Where Do We Stand Six Months In?

Joyce Coates
County Reporter
“Sales tax receipts are up by about one-half percent, bolstered by revenue from the last three months,” Rick Renno, County Treasurer said. Compared to the same period last year, people from the city with homes here came earlier, largely because of COVID related shutdowns, and have stayed longer, spending more on food and gas. “We have reason to expect the next two months will be good, as well.”
Renno said the county budget projected 2 percent growth, still possible if COVID numbers do not go up. General Revenue funds are “okay,” giving some leeway he said, adding also that money was saved on interest because the County’s financial practices, budget, and cash on hand earned a AAA rating on bonds for the new jail project, which despite COVID, is on schedule.
Benton County’s unemployment rate for May 2020, reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, was 10.1 percent; up from 9.7 percent in April 2020, and significantly up from 4.1 percent in May 2019.
Nevertheless, some local businesses are doing well, if not better than before the COVID-19 shutdowns. Mary Langewisch at Statuary Gardens and Boutique, said since she reopened at 939 E. Main Street on May 2, and at the downtown shop at 303 Seminary, on May 6, “both shops are doing terrific business.” In fact, she said, “Saturday before Mother’s Day I had the best sales day ever since first starting a business in 1988.” 
Customer base is different, however, in that very few of the former regulars still frequent the shops. Sixty percent or more are people from places out of town, from Kansas City, MO., from other states including Texas, Iowa and Nebraska. Some are moving here; others are on day trips to get away from COVID restrictions at home.  
“Three weeks ago we started selling ice cream at the 303 Ice Cream & Eatery and that is doing very well.  We’re building a new, separate entrance to the ice cream shop this week. It is on the west, Main Street side, so customers won’t have to walk through the boutique.”
Dustin and Linda Burroughs own Truman Lake Marine and Powersports at 23963 Hwy 65, where Linda said a nearly even distribution among local customers and people from Kansas, Texas, “and everywhere,” have kept business sales “very good,” even before COVID. The Burroughs sell new and used boats and used engines, as well as upholstery services.
On the subject of boats: Ken and Kathy Byers at Sterett Creek Marina, 18174 Marina Road, Hwy 65, Warsaw; operate the marina, motel, campgrounds, and the Drunken Minnow Bar & Grill that is open Friday evenings and Saturdays. 
Kathy said, “All facilities are functioning, with appropriate COVID-related precautions. We opened earlier than usual, sales were up from last year during May and June, especially from people who came to get away from the city and spend time outdoors. Since July 4th, it has been quieter.”
Business at Cow Patties, 604 Main St., Warsaw, said the owner, “is about the same as in summer every year, with lots of tourists on the weekends.” 
At Comic Coffee, 504 Main St., Warsaw, owner Shannon Noland said “June was a record-breaking month. Business has caught back up to where it was last year.” Now back to offering full service, for a while sales were less from only drive-through and carryout. 
Lisa Powell at Main Street Spirits, 1027 Main St., Warsaw, said “Overall, we’re very busy and above what we would expect, even considering COVID-19.” Powell said her local customer base is consistent, although business from “lakers” (out-of-towners) is down about 15 percent. 
An aluminum can shortage limits the supply of some customer favorite brands. “It’s sporadic,” she said, “one week distributors cannot provide a certain product, the next week that product is available but another one is not.” Customers understand the situation, she said, and decide to do without or choose another product in the meantime.
To digress a bit, it is interesting that several online media report an aluminum can shortage. USA Today on July 16 said the problem arises from production falling behind, not a limited raw material supply. Apparently, sales of canned beer and sodas since COVID-19 reached crisis level caused production to fall behind. A CODO Design website report on the last decade of beer branding mentions there are 8,000 breweries in the U.S. where cans are overtaking bottles except for imports. 
Back to Benton County, Lincoln City Clerk said its sales tax revenues are down by about one percent, although they expected it would be worse. Tourism is not a source of revenue as it is for Warsaw, yet except for Subway closing its operation in Lincoln, nothing else has changed so far.
Cole Camp City Clerk was out of the office for the day; an employee filling in said city sales tax revenues are somewhat down, yet as restaurants are reopening they should start to go back up.