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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of short features on small businesses responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.)
The uncertainty of how the COVID-19 outbreak will play out is what makes it so stressful, says Douglas Braswell, CEO of Braswell & Son Pawnshops of Little Rock.
The small chain, which just celebrated its 40th year in business, has five shops in central Arkansas and about 46 employees.
“Obviously it’s — if nothing else — it’s very stressful just because so much of it is unknown,” Braswell said Wednesday.
Because of the outbreak, a few employees in high-risk demographics have chosen to stay home, and others have stepped up in the interim. Fortunately, he said, it’s early in the year, so new hires have their initial two weeks’ of paid time off available. Longtime employees have four weeks. So Braswell said he doesn’t expect anyone to miss a paycheck during the crisis.
He also said he’s sending laptops to employees stuck at home who want to do what work they can from there, such as contacting customers.
“The great thing is, I have such a great, just a fantastic group of folks that we work with that have stepped in and filled the need,” he said, adding that employees have been willing to work at different stores if they’re short-handed.
Braswell also said the stores “smell like they’ve just been deep cleaned. Every time I walk in, it smells like bleach and Lysol and everybody is okay, practicing good, healthy [habits]. You know, I guess the term is social distancing. But yeah, so I couldn’t be more proud of the folks that I work with.”
Braswell hasn’t closed stores or changed hours; that decision is being made on a day-to-day basis. While foot traffic has declined, Braswell said shops could eventually see an influx of people struggling financially who need their help.
“What we do day-to-day is help folks that have short-term, small dollar needs,” Braswell said. “I think it’s important that we’re available to folks that don’t have bank accounts that need $50 or $100 or something. … But we haven’t seen a big influx of folks that are in that spot at the moment.”
If an influx does occur, Braswell said the shops have limited resources but a great partner in Eagle Bank & Trust of Little Rock.
“We anticipate that they will be here to help,” he said.