In March, the White House set guidelines for Americans to follow in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. They restricted the congregation of groups larger than 250. This was later revised to 50, and then again to 10.
This led to a decision to move all classes at Missouri Southern to an online format until the end of April. Later, it was announced students would not be returning for the remaining semester.
Outside of campus, many local businesses in the downtown district of Joplin also announced plans to close doors in an effort to protect patrons and employees. This caused many individuals in the service industry to be out of work until this all blows over.
For business owners, it was a difficult decision to make. Melanie Wamble, owner of Blackthorn Pizza and Pub, decided to close on March 18.
“It was not a decision made lightly,” Wamble said. “But I felt it was the responsible thing to do for my staff and the community.”
Daniel Valentine is the Cocktail Program Manager at Infuxn Kitchen + Cocktails and has been a familiar face in the downtown community for several years. He has served on committees for the Downtown Joplin Alliance as both a volunteer and a board member and is recognized as being a part of downtown’s cultural scene.
Aside from organizing events, such as community bicycle rides, Valentine can often be found serving local beers and crafting cocktails. Unfortunately, his ventures have also been put on hiatus due to the pandemic.
“We understand that we all had to make a personal financial sacrifice to do our part to flatten the spike,” Valentine said. “This decision was very difficult and hits our industry really hard.”
Bookhouse Cinema is also a local establishment that has temporally closed. Kolourz Voss was a server and bartender there. Voss said that business had slowed once the news of COVID-19 in the area began to spread.
“It seemed to become clear that a closure was imperative,” Voss said.
On March 21, Bookhouse officially announced that operations would stop until further notice.
“I think that might have been difficult for [owners] Brad and Holly to do because they care so much about their staff and our ability to provide for ourselves and families,” said Voss.
Not long ago, the blocks between fourth and seventh Street on both Main and Joplin Avenue were lively with citizens dining in restaurants, grabbing a coffee and visiting bars. Today, the streets are eerily quiet.
“This is a rapidly changing environment right now,” said Valentine. “Carmine’s and Red Onion are offering take-out or curbside options, but most other businesses have shut down. Especially bars. I can’t think of one that is still open.”
The pandemic is especially hard-hitting for new businesses or others just preparing to open, such as Chaos Brewing Company. However, Valentine is optimistic that many of these establishments will be able to bounce back. Yet, there is always a possibility that others will not.
Valentine admits that this is “a hard thing to see in a downtown community that works really hard to support each other.”
Resources are available for those out of work, such as aid from the USBG National Charity Foundation.
“A big help has come from Joplin resident and Missouri Southern student Taylor Cunningham’s virtual tipping spreadsheet.” said Voss. “Residents who are able to help financially can donate a virtual tip to the service industry workers who have been added, via a Cash App or Venmo account.”
There are also several Facebook groups that offer support and guidance.
Southern students can still help support the downtown community. Doing so will assist many individuals who are out of work and can result in a speedy recovery for these establishments once they are able to re-open.