As of April 23, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate sat at 27 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 300,000 unemployment claims filed since March.

Holy Family Catholic Bookstore in Pleasant Prairie estimates it does two-thirds of its annual business in March and April. The coronavirus pandemic has squashed that this year. (Submitted photo)

It’s estimated by the Department of Workforce Development that 725,000 Wisconsin residents are now unemployed with only around 100,000 out of work before the pandemic.

As the weeks wear on and Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer At Home” order is firmly in place, small businesses face disaster. Farm bankruptcies in our state continue to rise, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association estimates that more than half of our state’s restaurants will be forced to close permanently because of the governor’s recent extension of the order to May 26.

Along with everyone else, Catholic-owned businesses across the archdiocese are feeling the weight of this health crisis.

“It’s terrifying,” said Patrick Endter, owner of Endter’s Sports Bar and Grill in Hartland. On Monday, March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most lucrative in the restaurant business, Gov. Evers announced the “Safer at Home” order, and Endter and his team scrambled to adjust. “We were thrust into it, and knew it would mean a significant loss,” Endter said.

Early March is the busiest time of year for Catholic bookstores: parents and family members flock to them to buy gifts for first communions and confirmations. Wes Ricchio, owner of Holy Family Catholic Bookstore in Pleasant Prairie, estimates that two-thirds of his business is done in March and April. “We got all of our inventory in in anticipation of first communions and confirmations,” he said. “The store is completely full and the bills come due in May; that puts the pressure on.”

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, on Friday, March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act into law, which contained $376 billion in relief for small businesses, but as time has gone by, benefits have decreased without explanation, and business owners who have reached out for help have been met with silence from the Small Business Administration, the agency tasked with handling applications. None of the businesses interviewed for this article were able to receive any funding or relief.

Meghan Turner, who owns Carl Allen Woodworks Home Improvement with her husband, expressed frustration with the application process and said it seemed like it was designed to fail. “Even to be able to apply for the loan was crazy; there was no information. It was an insane process with no help from anyone,” she said.

With so little help from the federal government, and an unknown future stretched out before small businesses, the only true relief seems to come from their faith and the communities they’ve built up around them.

Endter’s Sports Bar and Grill began offering curbside pickup and delivery almost immediately and their loyal customer base, made up in part from the parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo in Hartland where the Endter’s are members, has given them consistent support.

“Community loyalty is the only reason we’re doing OK,” Endter said. Sales are down for the sports bar that’s in its 12th year of business, but because of a steady stream of customers they’ve been able to keep all of their full-time employees and even offer some of their part-time employees additional hours. Parishioners from St. Charles reached out to Endter to offer support to his part-time employees who lost their full-time jobs: they dropped off gift cards for food and gas, and offered words of support and prayer.

For Holy Family Catholic Bookstore, too, community and faith has kept them going. The bookstore has been in operation for 28 years, and with the exception of Holy Days of Obligation falling on a weekday or Saturday, Wes Ricchio said it has never closed its doors. In the weeks since their last customer, Ricchio has heard from many others that when the order lifts and the sacraments can be celebrated together again, they’ll be there just as they were before. “We know that this is for something,” he said. “We trust in God for the rest.”

The looming question for businesses now is, how much more can they take, and how long will this go on?

Patrick Endter said, “We can’t survive like this forever.” He looks at the businesses around that are closing and prays for them, and thanks God for what he has and the people who have helped them keep their head above these treacherous waters. Last week, a familiar face walked in to Ednter’s Sports Bar and Grill to pick up an order. He saw Patrick and waved and walked over, stopping well before six feet, and thanked him for all he did for the community in more prosperous days. He said, “I told my wife where I wanted to have dinner tonight because if we want you to be around when this is all over, we need to support you now.”