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Jacksonville Businesses Scale Back, Get Creative As Coronavirus Cuts Cashflow

Outside of SunRay Cinema
Jacksonville Daily Record
SunRay Cinema closed its theatre indefinitely follwing the COVID-19 outrbreak.

Going into the month of March, the Murray Hillbilly restaurant was having its best week-to-week sales period since it opened its brick and mortar eatery and event space on Edgewood Avenue a little over a year ago. 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. 

“Overall, we're probably down 50 to maybe 60% from what we're normally doing,” said Murray Hillbilly co-owner Ryan Strandjord. 

Strandjord and restaurant founder Da-Vi Jinda Em decided to close the seating area this past weekend in order to prevent potential spread of the coronavirus. They’re switching to delivery or takeout only. 

“Ultimately, we have to do it right now,” Em said. “And just hope to be that leader for other businesses as well to take that initiative, because it’s not just about the money. It’s about the community.”

The owners of the vegan restaurant said people can order online, then drive into parking spaces, where an employee will drop the meal off. They’re also using UberEats and other delivery services, some of which are waiving delivery fees for local restaurants. 

“If we have to switch to a delivery-only model, and we're only sending food out through these apps and they’re taking 30%, there's no way financially right now that we could make that work,” Strandjord said. “The fact that they are waiving these fees, is allowing us to breathe a big sigh of relief.”

Murray Hillbilly will also change its menu depending on what ingredients are available at the restaurant, which the owners said will lead to a decrease in prices. 

“Understanding that normal rules no longer apply, and the fact that we understand that a lot of people are going to be out of their job, or they're not going to be making a whole lot of money over the next couple of weeks, we want to help ensure that we can feed our community,” Strandjord said.

The owners said they were frustrated seeing other businesses not take any precautions to avoid large groups over the weekend, which led the city on Monday to limit the capacity of people in any establishment to 50 people indefinitely. 

Shana David-Massett, co-owner of Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points, said her business started taking a big hit in ticket sales in early March. The cinema has canceled all showings and events indefinitely. They’ve also significantly cut employee hours. 

“There’s a lot of bills that we worry about,” David-Massett said. “Rent stays the same whether there’s a pandemic. Insurance bills that may or may not cover this particular issue stay the same whether or not there’s a pandemic.”

The SBA announced emergency loans for small businesses, and Sun-Ray is keeping it’s eye on those, but David-Massett doesn’t believe the process to receive money will be quick.

“The reality is not kind to businesses of our scale,” David-Massett said. “In these situations historically, we are a pretty nimble and limber and responsive business and have been for eight years, or, I promise you, our doors would not still be open at all.”

The cinema’s Pizza Cave - which opened in January - will remain open during lunch and dinner hours. But if sales are too low, they’ll shut that down as well. 

David-Massett said the pandemic has taught her a lot about making small business decisions. 

“Information is developing hourly,” she said. “Your plan from 24 hours ago is passe, so you better get it together to have a mindset in which you’re going to take these little pieces of information and evolve.” 

Beginning Monday at 5 p.m., all establishments in Jacksonville are limited to a 50-person capacity, with the exception of grocery stores. No alcohol sales will be allowed between midnight and 8 a.m.    

Sky Lebron can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

Former WJCT News reporter