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Coronavirus taking toll on jobs in Lincoln
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Coronavirus taking toll on jobs in Lincoln

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Dozens of local restaurants and bars have either closed or gone to only offering delivery and carryout over the past week.

A number of retail stores have either shut their doors or reduced hours.

While the moves have been necessary to deal with the novel coronavirus outbreak, they've left an untold number of people out of work or with reduced hours for an unknown period.

Many companies have pledged to pay employees for at least the next two weeks, ranging from large retailers such as Kohl's and The Buckle to small local businesses such as Sandy's.

But plenty of people are finding themselves out of work with no pay.

Initial unemployment claims jumped to 799 for the week ending March 14, a nearly 60% increase over the previous week, and that's before most businesses started shutting down.

Benjamin Kushner, a musician who plays in three bands — The Mezcal Brothers, The Wondermonds and Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal — said he’s had all his gigs canceled for the foreseeable future. That includes a tour Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal had scheduled for the southeastern and northeastern U.S. later this spring.

“It’s tough,” he said. But he also noted that it’s “tough for a lot of people.”

That includes Ann Loaris, who is out of work because the tattoo studio she works at, Iron Brush, decided to shut down for at least a couple of weeks so its personal protective equipment like masks and gloves could be used by health providers.

Loaris spent much of the day Thursday trying to sign up for unemployment compensation, but she’s not even sure she can because she’s an independent contractor and is incorporated as a small business.

“It’s a pretty big nightmare to live in,” she said.

Another contractor who’s facing the possibility of a long period with little or no income is Jim Hogg.

State, national economy 'needs a vaccine,' experts say

Hogg, a Lincoln-based franchise consultant, said he's had a couple of clients put things on pause for now because of the economic uncertainty surrounding the outbreak, and he expects that to continue.

"I do expect more pausing and bowing out than normal and a lot more fear," Hogg said.

He said economic downturns usually are good for the franchising business because people who have lost jobs may decide to start a business.

However, in this case, the quick, steep drop in the stock market has drastically cut the value of assets such as 401(k) accounts that people often tap to pay franchise fees and startup costs.

Hogg said the current situation feels a little like a combination of 9/11 and the last recession.

He said for him personally, "it's not that big a shock because I've been doing this so long."

But because his income comes from a finder's fee when someone signs a franchise agreement, he's not making any money right now. At the same time, Hogg said he has to continue spending money on things like marketing to continue to find clients for when things pick back up.

Despite that, he said he's never filed for unemployment and doesn't intend to do so this time around.

"My intent is to try to tough it out," Hogg said. "I'd like to think I could withstand whatever."

Both the federal and state governments have tried to increase resources for people and businesses struggling due to the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19.

Nebraska has relaxed rules for applying for unemployment, waiving the one-week waiting period starting Sunday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday that the Small Business Administration issued a statewide economic injury declaration for Nebraska, which makes small businesses throughout the state eligible to apply for SBA disaster assistance loans.

Those kinds of moves may eventually provide relief to people like Kushner, Loaris and Hogg, but for now, they are faced with uncertainty.

“It’s scary,” said Kushner, who said he’s considering some kind of temporary employment, but has to be careful because he has leukemia and is considered high risk to face complications if he gets the virus.

For now he’s concentrating on personal pursuits, such as working in his yard and practicing the guitar. He also noted that many of his bands' gigs have been rescheduled for the fall and a tour Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal has booked in Spain during the summer has not yet been canceled.

“I’m really trying to stay positive whatever way I can,” Kushner said.

Loaris said she’s been a tattoo artist for more than 10 years and is not at this point thinking about doing anything else, even temporarily.

She said she and some other local tattoo artists are considering trying to “stimulate the economy” in their own way by doing some small art projects.

“We’ll be all right,” she said. “We’ll ride out the storm.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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