Robak: Help Illinois’ small businesses survive these difficult times

These unprecedented times brought with it unprecedented stressors on our lives. Thousands have died. Millions have lost their jobs. In one way or another, every single one of us has had to change the way we live our lives.

As for myself, I am the owner of a small cleaning service business, and the coronavirus has turned my world – as well as every other small business owner’s world – upside down. Illinois hasn’t made it easier for us to open back up, by stacking up costs and taxes on our livelihoods.

The coronavirus-led shutdowns of Illinois businesses came with the expected repercussions. Shutting our doors meant a steep decline in customers, sales, purchases, revenue, etc. For many, this loss in revenue meant that there was no choice but to let go of the hardworking, loyal employees that made our businesses what they were.

And now, businesses are facing several financial challenges when trying to rebuild. We now have to face skyrocketing minimum wage increases, insurance costs and new payroll requirements.

I saw the first wave of results coming, knowing it would be a while before we could reopen our businesses. Because we were all so desperate to get things up and running again, we lost sight of just how expensive this would be, topped with new taxes from our legislature.

In normal, non-global-pandemic times, the cost of reopening a business is a hefty one. You have to rehire your employees and get them back on the payroll. You have to pay the price for restocking your supplies and you have to advertise your reopening in order to make sure you have customers.

It’s certainly not cheap. In addition, Illinois enacted a minimum wage increase that rose to $10/hour on July 1 and will rise to $11/hour on Jan. 1. We will now have to manage the unintended consequences that come with higher wages, including higher insurance costs and payroll fees, all impacting our bottom lines and ability to financially keep employees.

With COVID-19, not only do we have to pay the usual costs of reopening, we also have to pay to make our businesses safe. Our top priority is to keep our employees safe and ensure customers can enjoy our services without the threat of contracting the illness.

That means purchasing things like masks, gloves, thermometers, and plexiglass. It also means a revamping of our usual everyday protocols, such as how often employees wash their hands and how they handle the product in the stores. It’s costly, but we’re small business owners, and we know that it is our duty to keep our customers and employees happy and healthy, even if it means some extra purchases.

Lastly, there is the final third wave of coronavirus-related issues that has hit the small business community the hardest: coronavirus-related lawsuits. You see, in the wake of any crisis, people want someone to hold accountable for their suffering. We can’t blame them for that, but we can at least try to keep things fair.

As I mentioned previously, employees’ and customers’ safety are a top priority for small business owners. By putting proper protections in place to stop lawsuits from making Illinois a small-business-free state, we can get back to pumping money into the economy that Illinois so desperately needs and stop trial lawyers from taking advantage of a global pandemic for their own personal gain.

• David Robak is the owner of The Cleaning Authority and the former mayor of Prairie Grove.