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Tough Times Are About To Get Tougher For Many Mass. Businesses05:34
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With not many stores open, Quincy Marketplace is deserted. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
With not many stores open, Quincy Marketplace is deserted. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Many Massachusetts businesses that planned to keep their doors open for as long as possible during the coronavirus outbreak have nearly reached the limit of their holdouts: Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered most companies to close brick-and-mortar locations by noon Tuesday.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other businesses deemed "essential" by the state can continue operations — and may even see sales surge, said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. But for many of the group's roughly 4,000 members, tough times are about to get tougher.

"They're anxious," said Hurst. "They're worried about the future. And how do they take care of their their their employees, their customers? How do they make the next rent payment?"

The governor's order is set to expire April 7 but could be extended.

At 99Degrees, an apparel manufacturer in Lawrence, many of the 150 employees will file for unemployment benefits, said chief executive Brenna Nan Schneider.

The forced closure comes as the factory planned to suspend production anyway, in preparation for a likely shift to making masks or other protective gear for health care workers. Such equipment is in short supply.

"We're getting calls all day from hospitals and doctors ... and the state’s emergency response team, just trying to figure out how we can help," said Schneider.

A switch to manufacturing protective equipment would enable 99Degrees to reopen.

"We have to respond and be helpful, and we're in a position where we can be," Schneider added. "And so, how do we use that opportunity to do the most good that we can do? There is a sense of civic responsibility but also a commitment to the people who've helped me build this company that I am making decisions that help keep them safe."

In Kendall Square, one of the world's busiest life science centers, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council CEO Bob Coughlin described an "eerie" scene Monday, shortly after Baker held a televised news conference to unveil his order.

"Looking out the windows and seeing Kendall Square is empty, it's unlike anything I've ever seen in my life," Coughlin said.

The Cambridge neighborhood will not be completely vacant under the governor's order. MassBio sought guidance from Baker's office and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and was told pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing, as well as research and development, will be considered essential and can continue — even if unrelated to the coronavirus, according to Coughlin.

Still, much of the Kendall Square workforce has been directed to work from home during the outbreak. Coughlin predicts the disruption "will affect the amount of new companies that are started three, five, 10 years from now because of the slowdown in science."

"I have had several calls with small companies that are concerned about the fact that they could run out of funding," he added. "Right now is not a time to be able to go out and raise money. We all know this is a capital-expensive industry."

Among the businesses exempt from the closure order are liquor stores, which are grouped with other food and beverage sellers on the state's list of essentials.

That's a relief — but only a slight one — to Suzanne Schalow, chief executive of the Craft Beer Cellar, which has seven locations in Massachusetts. For all the jokes about people stocking up on booze to get through the pandemic, liquor stores are hurting, too, Schalow said.

"A lot of our stores ... do a massive amount of corporate business, and that's all gone away, literally at the snap of a finger," she said. "So that's a change and a big downturn in business."

This segment aired on March 24, 2020.

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