You can hear in his voice just how much the COVID-19 pandemic is wearing on 1369 Coffeehouse owner Josh Gerber.
“It’s been a week, for sure,” says Gerber, who was driving around delivering growlers and bulk coffee orders on a wet Thursday afternoon. “It’s been difficult. One of the things that has been hardest about it, which is in some ways over, was it seemed like it changed day by day. At first we thought we could be open limited hours … but within a day or two it was clear that wouldn’t work.
“And so, we decided to close.”
That was this past Monday, and Gerber—who doesn’t remember having to lay off a single person in the 27 years since he opened the business—had to let go his entire staff of more than 30 people.
“It’s hard,” he says. “There were a lot of really difficult decisions and a lot of true financial pain for the staff and all of us. It’s been rough.”
But Gerber hasn’t stopped looking out for his people. In fact, he explains, laying off his employees was actually better for them because this way they can file for unemployment benefits.
“We tried to keep some people on part-time for a little while but there’s a challenge in that. For most of our staff, if they’re only getting a portion of their hours because the tips aren’t coming in, because people aren’t coming in, it’s better for them to be laid off than working half-time and getting half-tips,” says Gerber. “They can get unemployment, which means they’re basically getting the same amount of income and not having to expose themselves.”
He has also set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help employees cover unforeseen expenses, and he is taking steps to help provide food to those who need it. And even though the shop’s doors are closed, Gerber still finds himself putting his nose to the coffee grinder.
“I, personally, have been incredibly busy just trying to make all of this happen and work to take care of the store and distribute food to staff and trying to make sure people have the help they need,” he says. “We spun up an online delivery business for growlers and bulk coffee to try and get some hours for some people and are making that happen.”
He’s also working to stay connected with his crew and keep on top of their needs. Because 1369 only closed a few days ago, he says people aren’t really in need of support yet. But he wants to be sure that when they are, he’s ready to distribute food and, if necessary, funds to assist them.
“But it’s been really hard,” he adds, sounding plainly exhausted.
So, how is Gerber coping? He says the greatest relief for him is getting home at the end of the day and spending time with his 20-month-old daughter.
“It’s just been a whirlwind,” says Gerber. “There’s almost no time to stop and think about it. You just have to take it one day at a time.”
Looking down the road, when the crisis eventually ends and he’s able to reopen 1369, Gerber knows where he will get the people to staff it: The same place he got them before the pandemic.
“It’s our goal to rehire everybody,” he says. “I love our crew. They are great people, and I really, really hope we can bring the same crew back again.”
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