• Local Small Businesses Deal with Challenges from Inflation

    Scott Marion, Staff Writer
    July 11, 2022
    Updated: July 11, 2022 9:41 a.m.

    Inflation has affected nearly every business in the United States, but it’s hitting small businesses especially hard.

    On top of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation has hit a 40-year high in the U.S., with prices spiking 8.6% over the previous year.

     “Our small businesses have been through two years of the unknown,” said Dawn Mushill, executive director of the Troy/Maryville/St. Jacob/Marine Chamber of Commerce. “They are asking themselves - will we be able to stay open? How will we pay our employees? Will our customers stay with us?  How will we get all of the supplies we need to stay open?  And now we add the increase of goods as well as gas prices.

    “Supporting small businesses during this time is more important than ever. Remember, when you support a small business, you are supporting a family who works very hard every single day to run their business – it is not easy – just ask a small business owner.”

    Harry Zollars is CEO of Maryville Pharmacy, 2700 N. Center St. in Maryville. The pharmacy has been in business since 1976, when it was opened by Gary Ceretto. It was purchased by Zollars’ family in October 2019, shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “It’s been a wild ride ever since,” Zollars said. “Especially with the challenges and the pressures that the pandemic has put on us, being a retail setting and also a healthcare setting, it’s felt more like being in a boiling pot of frogs. Over time, you realize how much things have changed.

    “It feels like we’ve had to catch up on almost everything, on top of learning how to run a business and how to structure payroll. It’s also about how we meet the demand of people during a very specific time that no one has experienced in our lifetime. Now, going into what is predicted to be a big recession, we’re trying to keep our costs covered and pay everybody and make it to the next day.”

    Adjusting to the challenges caused by inflation hasn’t been easy for the pharmacy.

    “We’ve gone through trying to find ways to cover costs as appropriately as possible, but unfortunately, that leads to an increase in price on various products that we sell,” Zollars said.

    “In addition to the pharmacy, we have a wide range of services, including medical equipment, compounding and post-vasectomy measuring services. Our diversity in services has been one of our saving factors.”

    The rising cost of making deliveries, spurred by record-high gas prices, has also forced Zollars to make decisions he would rather not make.

    “We used to do free local delivery within Maryville city limits, or for a nominal fee, from $4 to $7, depending on where people lived,” Zollars said. “We’re one of the few independent pharmacies in the area and we would go out as far as Holiday Shores or Caseyville.

    “Especially as of late, when gas went north of $5 a gallon, plus the rising minimum wage structure that Illinois has put into place, we’ve had to change our paradigm on delivery. It has led to a direct increase in delivery costs that we’re going to implement [this] week.”

    Desiree Bennyhoff is president and CEO of the Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce. She noted that businesses continue to grapple with supply chain limitations and staffing challenges.

    “The effects of inflation, rising interest rates, significantly increased energy costs and soaring fuel prices make operating a successful business increasingly precarious,” Bennyhoff said. “Rising costs and staffing shortages are particularly evident in retail and dining establishments, and supply interruptions have caused inventory management challenges for many industries.

    “When we consider the cumulative impact of taxation, minimum wage increases, rising insurance coverages and all these other factors, the cost of doing business is staggering and continues to escalate. A few strategies businesses employ to help persevere include diversifying supply chains, investing in efficiencies, acquiring advance inventory when possible, and paying keen attention to how and when each market fluctuation impacts their operations.”

    Bennyhoff added that inflation erodes consumers' purchasing power by decreasing discretionary income, forcing consumers to pay extra attention in weighing wants versus needs and readjusting priorities as necessary.

    “Effects of inflation, supply shortages and staffing issues manifest in a variety of ways,” Bennyhoff said. “As customers visit our local businesses, we encourage shoppers to be cognizant that our establishments are doing the best they can with available resources. We are fortunate for the significant investments our businesses have made in this market, and I hope everyone continues supporting and celebrating our local job creators.”

    Ann Byrd is the owner of Time Out Sports Bar & Grill, located at 111 W. Market St. in Troy. The business celebrated its 11th anniversary on Thursday, but the past two and a half years since the start of the pandemic have been especially challenging.

    “You think you’re on a steady stream and then COVID hit,” Byrd said. “When they closed us down for COVID, that was tough for us, but we’re in a great town and we have great support. With the supply chain issues, we couldn’t get some things and we’d have to take items off our menu.

    “When we had a set menu, everyone would be surprised when we didn’t have something available, but they’ve worked with us, and they’ve been great. When we did get things in, they were often double the price.”

    Byrd offered several examples of skyrocketing prices for food items.

    “We used to get a case of chicken wings for $70 and during the 2021 shortages, they were $170 or $180, so we had to adjust our prices or take them off the menu,” Byrd said. “With inflation now, instead of seeing the price spike in one supply chain item, it’s across the board. We used to pay $19 for a case of fries and now it’s $31.

    “The price increase for chicken wings (after the shortage) has steadily gone up from $70 to $95. We used to pay $62 for a case of chicken breasts and now they’re $132. Lettuce is $31 for a case, and it used to be $17. A case of bag-in-the-box soda used to be $73 and now it’s $99.”

    Price changes and supply chain issues have made the menu at Time Out a work in progress.

    “We had a standard menu for several years, but now we print one about every three weeks,” Byrd said. “Sometimes we have to make an emergency menu and take things off. We have it all saved (on the computer) and print them and change them as needed.”

    Liquor, so far, hasn’t seen as big of a price hike.

    “Certain things have gone up, but it’s not crazy yet,” Byrd said. “The prices are starting to creep up, though.”

    Mushill offers some suggestions for supporting small businesses:

    • Give them a review on Google or another social media platform
    • Tip the staff
    • Thank the business owner
    • Share your positive experience on social media (avoid sending ANY negative experiences on Facebook – talk with the owner only)
    • Tell your friends and family about the business
    • Have patience – they might be short-staffed
    • Understand that small businesses are run by families and things happen – they might need to close early, or you might have to leave a message – life happens

    For Zollars, dealing with inflation includes building partnerships with other local independent pharmacies.

    “It’s a brave new world and it feels like it’s changing every day,” Zollars said. “Beyond just doing what we can to serve our patients and trying to minimize the impact of supply chain issues, there has been a lot of working together among independent pharmacy owners in our area.

    “That includes Jill Woodward at the Medicine Shoppe in Wood River, Bruce Brueggemann at the WellCreek Pharmacy in Bethalto and Al Pelate at the Medicap Pharmacy in Granite City. There are only so many of us in Madison County and we’ve had to lean on each other to help out when we can and make sure we get people their important medications the best we can. Every day there’s something new that pops up, even more so than when I started in pharmacy seven years ago.”