How Springfield businesses and organizations are adapting in response to COVID-19

It’s been just a little over a week since the grand opening celebration for COhatch, the new “coworking and more” space that recently opened its doors in downtown Springfield. This was supposed to be a time when its entrepreneur tenants got to stretch out, settle into their new space, and to shake hands with their neighbors.

How quickly things can change.

As the country works to “flatten the curve,” managing the impact of COVID-19 as best it can, schools have shut down, bars and restaurants have been limited to carry-out orders only, and plenty more restrictions have rolled out from state to state, with Ohio being at the forefront of this charge.

Local restaurants and bars are feeling the impact from the closures.

At Mother Stewart’s Brewing, managing member Kevin Loftis says, “It will be a solid eight weeks before things are back to normal.” The brewery is looking to do extra can runs but will have a lot of draft beer go to waste.

But canceled events will hurt the central gathering space in the heart of downtown even more than thrown out beer. The event space can accommodate 400-500 people and events have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

At Speakeasy Ramen, co-owner Brittany Frazier says half of the servers and bartenders will have to file for unemployment.

The saving grace for the 13 employees, nine of whom work in the kitchen? “It’s a good thing that people have two jobs,” she says.

Both Mother Stewart’s Brewing and Speakeasy Ramen have adapted, with the brewery slowing down production and canning beer for sale while Speakeasy Ramen is delivering within city limits as well as offering sushi for takeout and beer, wine, and sake to go.

Other local businesses and organizations are adapting to the new world in which we live, adaptations that will not only allow them to make it through to the light at the end of tunnel, but adaptations with the community in mind, as well.

‘Engineering collisions’ in the age of social distancing

COhatch CEO and co-founder Matt Davis says his job is “engineering collision,” to facilitate people’s making connections and building relationships. But in the era of social distancing, colliding into each other is all the more difficult— and discouraged.

COhatch has decided that its facilities will stay open, though in a much different capacity than originally planned. It will be up to its tenants whether they want to use their rented space. Many of the COhatch employees themselves will be switched to the role of “paid volunteers,” helping the community at large, and less directly the tenants, in any number of ways as it grapples with the current state of COVID-19-related shutdowns.

It’s an unsurprising move for CEO Davis. As he told us in an interview just prior to opening the Springfield location, “work” is decidedly one of the least important parts of Davis’ job.

“I hate the saying of work-life balance,” he told us. “When is work 50% of what I am? I’m a father, a husband, a neighbor.”

On Tuesday, March 17, Davis and company launched COhatch Delivers, which will become its focus over these next few months. COhatch’s new “paid volunteers” — they’re also open to regular volunteers — will be working to ease the burden of social distancing, and the effects of isolation for senior citizens and other at-risk communities.

COhatch Delivers will be making grocery runs for people, leaving them on doorsteps so as not to break the conventions of social distancing. They’ll set up FaceTime calls to battle episodes of loneliness. They’re also open to facilitating random acts of kindness, including everything from balloons in the front yard to hot meals to sending encouraging letters from children.

There is only so much, however, one can do in these times of social distancing. The nonprofit Abilities Connection, which was preparing to celebrate the grand opening of their Fresh Abilities restaurant in the COhatch building, had to postpone the event as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant, which specializes in salads, soups, and smoothies and utilizes romaine lettuce grown by adults with disabilities employed by TAC, will open once the shutdowns are lifted.

TAC, which offers skills training services for adults with disabilities, has been in the news most recently for the work they’ve done with Springfield native son and international celebrity John Legend to address the lack of fresh and healthy food options after the south-side Kroger closed down earlier this month.

It was just a couple of weeks ago when TAC launched its free shuttle service, connecting shoppers with a ride from the shuttered Kroger to the still-open Kroger on East Main Street.

Providing access to everyday essentials is more critical now than it was at the beginning of the month. So TAC will continue to offer the shuttle service, albeit with some new social distancing procedures attached. The organization is no longer trying to fill every seat, allowing riders to keep a safe distance from one another. Seats and railings will be wiped and sanitized more frequently. And those ever-increasingly valuable hand sanitizers will be on board, too.

Like many organizations throughout Springfield and across the world itself, TAC is taking it as it comes, making adjustments as needed.

“We’re always trying to find the appropriate guidance, hour by hour, day by day. We’re working with customers, the chamber of commerce, the department of health — you name it,” says Jim Zahora, CEO for TAC.

“We’re staying in contact with everyone, working to figure things out as a community.”

As both the creative director for Maiden Lane Church of God and the owner of his own creative marketing agency, Brandon Ellis has had a unique view of the COVID-19 response in Springfield.

Speaking to the latter, Ellis says he hasn’t yet seen too much of an impact on peers and clients in his work with Wolf Peach Creative, which he’s currently going through a re-branding process to become Champion City Creative.

But it’s in his work with the church where Ellis has seen a stark difference. As a response to the pandemic, Maiden Lane has gone to strictly online-only streaming broadcasts of its Sunday services; there is no congregation filling the physical pews, only digital ones.

Despite missing the some 400-odd people that attend Maiden Lane each week, Ellis and other church leaders understand that it’s for the greater good.

“We’re serving the community better by closing our doors. Now we’re navigating the waters of how to best serve people in other ways,” Ellis says.

As churches often serve larger roles in the community than just the Sunday services, Ellis says that church leaders called health officials, asking them whether they should keep their day care open. The response, he says, was pleading with them to stay open. That, like so many things, may change, but for now the day care can stay open.

There are many questions that come with such uncertain times; making the adaptations necessary to weather them while also taking the time to lend a hand seems to be a theme. Everyone is figuring it out, best they can.

So far, so good.

“With all the new businesses in downtown Springfield, we’ve gained so much momentum. But they might not be prepared for something like this, so there’s a concern with that,” Ellis says.

“So much is happening with the momentum downtown. How can we respond and support each other?”

FreshWater Cleveland writer Karin Connelly Rice contributed to this article.

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