A Floyd business icon is closing; Others struggle to survive

Janice Yearout Patton at Farmers Supply in a previous Christmas season.

Farmers Supply, the iconic hardware and general store that has anchored the corner of Main and Locust Streets in downtown Floyd for so many years, begins its store-closing sale on Oct. 1 and is expected to be gone before Christmas arrives.

Owner Jack Lawson said it was time to close. He told The Floyd Press that business has been “marginal” during the pandemic, adding that “It’s awful hard to acquire inventory.”

Longtime store manager Janice Yearout-Patton told the paper that “stuff got harder to get” but said the real challenge was the pandemic and tariffs.

Before it moved to its current location, the store was housed in the building that now belongs to the Floyd Country Store, home of the famed Friday Night Jamboree. The Country Store is hoping a GoFundMe campaign on the web will bring at least $60,000 it needs to stay in business when the iconic Jamboree depends on smaller crowds on a porch of the yard behind their store.

As of Saturday night, the campaign had reached $40,569.

Sadly, these are not the examples of business losses in Southwestern Virginia as part of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Several other businesses are hoping and holding on in hopes the pandemic will ease and pass before they have to shut their doors.

Some businesses in and around Floyd are trying to reopen with new owners. The owner of Joe’s Diner in Blacksburg bought the Blue Ridge Café and its building and hopes to have it open again in October. Blue Ridge closed before the pandemic began because of other problems,

Ray’s Restaurant on U.S. 221 will soon reopen with new owners as The American Pie. Pine Tavern has been for sale for several months. Current owner Reed Embrey says he will continue the restaurant if it doesn’t sell.

Natural food store Harvest Moon is on the market. So is Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel on Rte. 8 at the Parkway south of Floyd. It went on the market more than a year ago.

Floyd County, with a population of just over 15,000 has more than twice the number of deaths from the Coronavirus than Montgomery County, with about 115,000 residents (counting the city of Radford) and two universities within its boundaries. Yet Floyd’s 203 cases is minuscule compared to the more than 2,646 confirmed infections in Montgomery County and Radford.

In Christiansburg, you drive by restaurants like the International House of Pancakes and Golden Coral, which are closed for good. A walk through the recently renamed New River Valley Mall shows empty shells of what once were stores. You find the same at Valley View Mall in Roanoke.

Nationally, millions of workers remain unemployed with benefit running out. Airlines will cut more than 35,000 jobs starting on Oct. 1 because they can’t afford to keep flying empty planes.

Marquee names like Lord & Taylor, Neiman-Marcus, Brooks Brothers and other stores have closed or been sold with the hopes that they might remain open with fewer locations and scaled down merchandise offerings.

Most Americans are behind in their bills, mortgages and utilities. Some relief has come but others, like Appalachian Power, are now discontinuing service to those who have fallen behind. A number of “delayed payment” programs are scheduled to end in October.

Coresight Research, which tracks the retail industry, says more than 25,000 will close for good in 2020, more than two-and-a-half times the normal rate and a record it says the economy cannot absorb.

Yelp, which tracks more businesses, say more than 66,000 small operations are closed for good.

“Given that recovery to pre-crisis levels may be gradual, retailers that were struggling to stay in business pre-crisis are unlikely to have the wherewithal to stay the course on the road to recovery and could end up closing,” says Coresight founder and CEO Deborah Weinswig.

Closures already announced include Peer 1 Imports, health chain GNC and iconic brands like Victoria’s Secret and J.C. Penney.

For small businesses, the impact is greater.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Mick Larkin told The New York Times after the state of Texas ordered bars like his to close for a second time this summer because of a sharp rise in virus cases. “We did everything we were supposed to do. Then they shut us down again, and after I put out all that money to meet their rules.”

Larkin and his partner shuttered their karaoke club in Wichita Falls, Texas, for good.

The Small Business Association (SBA) says 44 percent of all U.S. economic activity comes from small operations. When so many close so fast, it brings lower cash flow, higher debt and more unemployment.

“This leads to a big drag on the eventual recovery,” Satyam Khanna, resident fellow at the Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance at New York University School of Law, tells The New York Times. “Because they are such an important source of jobs, losing them the way we are losing them now is going to make things far worse than they otherwise need to be.”

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