HANNIBAL | Louis LeBlanc checks a tire he mounted to a tire on Wednesday, June 10 — instead of working with one or two employees, he's the only person performing the task due to a sharp decline in service work and many of his customers finding themselves without jobs to help pay for vehicle service.
LeBlanc and his wife, Carrie, own LeBlanc's Automotive and Tire Shop Inc. on Mark Twain Avenue, and they witnessed extremely difficult months in March and April, LeBlanc said. LeBlanc remained open throughout the epidemic, noting Walmart's Tire and Lube Express was closed at the time. Even though he was open during the pandemic to serve other essential workers with tire repairs, replacement tires and other vehicle maintenance work, business was about half the normal level.
“I did see a bump in sales once the stimulus checks were handed out, but then it slowed down again,” LeBlanc said.
Over the past months, the Missouri Department of Transportation has witnessed declines in traffic on Missouri roads. This trend is also reflected in the amount of work customers request for their vehicles following the lifting of the state's stay-at-home order and the gradual re-opening of area businesses.
Many of LeBlanc's customers are currently unemployed due to circumstances surrounding the coronavirus, and the financial situation is forcing them to seek minimal vehicle maintenance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported unemployment rates jumped from 3.9% in March to 9.7% in April.
LeBlanc also noticed a different dynamic from the pre-pandemic days of people sitting in the lobby and talking with one another as their vehicle was serviced.
“A lot of customers drop their cars, they don't want to wait in the lobby,”LeBlanc said, noting he looks forward to businesses opening throughout the community. “I think once the fear dies down, things will pick up.”
LeBlanc refers to his shop as a “micro-business” with one or two employees — a category he said makes up a large part of industry in communities across the country. But he said “mom and pop” establishments aren't receiving the government assistance they need like larger companies.
“A lot of the stimulus and the help has been for the larger and mid-size companies, and not the little guy,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said businesses with 100 or 500 employees should have enough money to cover hardships during a couple months, but he said a business his size only has about “two weeks of cash flow in the bank, if you're lucky.”
“I've had to pull everything I have together to survive,” LeBlanc said.
The financial situation looks much different for shops like LeBlanc's and for many of his customers than it did before the coronavirus outbreak, but LeBlanc remains optimistic about what the future will hold.
“I think we'll pull through and make it,” he said. “It's just a matter of persevering through these times.”