FAIRMONT — When coronavirus and the response to it started closing down businesses throughout West Virginia, Dominick Claudio was just one business owner concerned about the future.
As the CEO of Claudio Corp., which owns several businesses throughout North Central West Virginia, his operations would be hit by the effects of the virus, just as many others would be.
“Our companies are diverse but the ones that mean the most are the ones that are on Main Streets for me,” Claudio said. “I just felt like we needed to help people and tell them what we were going through and try to help the emotions everyone was going through.”
In response to the closing of non-essential businesses and organizations, Claudio started Smallbusinessliveshere.com with Claudio Corp COO, and Main Street Fairmont Executive Director Tim Liebrecht. The website will serve as a hub for information and data coming from other small businesses throughout West Virginia.
“I think this started for me personally out of necessity,” Claudio said. “Whenever all of this information came about, there wasn’t a good outlet for me and I knew the way I felt represented the way the way a lot of other small business owners felt.”
The website lets small business owners submit information about their business, and the effects they believe COVID-19 will have on their economic future. Liebrecht said the website allows business owners to document how COVID-19 is impacting their businesses, now and for the future.
“We were just getting hit from all sides, so we said ‘There’s got to be a good resource out there for telling our story,’” Liebrecht said. “When the dust settles on this, somebody’s got to be able to share the information with small business with the decision-makers and that kind of thing.”
Liebrecht also said the information submitted through the website can be shared with state lawmakers and others who need to know how small businesses seem to be losing out the most in the relief being provided to combat COVID-19.
“Big companies are getting a bail out of some kind or another, individuals are getting bail outs, small businesses are just getting basically nothing,” Liebrecht said.
Since the website launched more than a week ago, Small Business Lives Here has been getting responses from people going through difficult times because of coronavirus and the Governor’s Stay at Home order. Liebrecht also said that this information will be useful once the order is lifted.
“We’re now getting surveys coming back from all over the state from businesses of all shapes and sizes,” Liebrecht said. “I want to let the broader business community know that there is a resource out there; we want to tell your story, we want to be of help. We want to collect the information so that we can share this with the right people once this crash is actually over.”
Claudio said one of the most common concerns small business owners are sharing early on is what will become of their employees, who get laid off or are working fewer hours since their businesses closed. He said this is one aspect of the economic impact he wanted to address through the website, and it demonstrates the impact of small business in normal times.
“Every single submission that has been made to our Small Business Lives Here, that’s every small business owner’s first concern,” Claudio said. “Employees are more important to every person who has filled these out than their bills or mortgages, and I think that represents what small business stands for and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The website also hosts a podcast created to tackle some of the subjects brought up by submitting small business owners, and Liebrecht said it also serves to document the coronavirus timeline of events.
“One thing we wanted to do with the podcast was document the fall, so to speak,” Liebrecht said. “As this is all spiraling out of control, we don’t know where we’re going to land, we wanted to talk about that a little bit in the midst of the chaos before we hit rock bottom.”
Claudio said he hopes the website will continue gathering information from small businesses, so that it will be useful in the days after coronavirus is history.
“I am hoping that we can represent the small businesses that would normally be looked over,” Claudio said. “If I can put enough people together and show that everyone is facing the same problem, maybe I can shine light on people who may be be looked over.”