Oxford Borough searching for normal amidst a pandemic
By Steven Hoffman
It is not business as usual for the Borough of Oxford but, like the rest of the world, the residents and business owners and elected officials are moving forward.
The council meeting scheduled for Monday, May 18 will take place utilizing Zoom, the first foray back toward normalcy.
Borough Manager Brian Hoover said they have been spending this downtime reorganizing and catching up. The office crew has been downsized to keep everyone safe. One employee had a possible exposure and was quarantined at home for two weeks. That person has returned to work and everyone is wearing masks and using hand sanitizer frequently. But Hoover is anxious, like everyone, for life to return to normal. But he readily admits he doesn’t know how the new normal is going to look.
“I am worried about everyone, including our business district,” he explained. “It is not easy to carry on without being able to communicate with Council. Council President Peggy Russell and I have been in constant contact. And together we are learning how to run a meeting on Zoom.”
If you are not familiar with Zoom, it’s a cloud-based video conferencing tool where one can host calls with others. Users can open chat rooms and can have up to 500 attendees, all sharing the feed from their webcams, thus allowing for the same conversations that could take place during a typical meeting. The borough will have instructions on the website to help all those interested in attending the May 18 meeting.
The agenda is expected to be a big one, although there is an option to split it and hold another meeting. Like many municipalities, business continues, contracts need to be signed, bills need to be paid, and the borough residents need the services that they have come to rely on.
Russell had this to say about this challenging time: “We are continuing to carry out the duties of Borough Council according to the Pennsylvania State Borough Code. We are not issuing comments or updates about the pandemic because the residents are being provided daily updates by the President of the United States and his task force, Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania, the governors of surrounding states, and our own Chester County Health Department.”
“Because we are not doctors or scientists, we are not making any comments. Daily, the news and updates are evolving and what is said at 10 a.m. is sometimes no longer valid at 6 p.m. We would not want to risk providing erroneous information or “outdated” updates,” she said.
“What we can do is obey the Stay At Home order, wear the required masks, maintain the recommended social distances, and respect the education and knowledge of those who know much more than we do,” she continued. “We can support our local essential businesses and we can help our neighbors in ways that are in compliance with the directives to keep us all healthy. We can stay calm.”
Continuing to work in the Borough are the Public Works employees since they provide essential services like water treatment and infrastructure maintenance. And during this time they have an added job of sanitizing public facilities and structures, even though much of that remains closed off to the public.
Hoover worries about the budget saying, “We will struggle with our budget since our revenues are off. Fortunately, we have 85 percent of our real estate [revenues] in already. Parking revenues will be off, as well as earned income. We have one parking enforcement officer working. Codes enforcement will slowly be coming back on. As far as our production businesses go, we still have Flowers Foods and Sunnydale working, along with those essential businesses open in the Oxford Square Mall and the borough business district. We are going to miss out on the Connective Festival, which brings a lot of revenue in for OMI and the Arts Alliance. Sadly, they won’t be able to recoup that.”
“I’m also concerned with the theatre project. And I’m not sure how much of the federal money (Personal Payroll Protection Program) is going to reach our mom and pop places here. No one has experienced something like this in their lifetime and they don’t know where it will end,” Hoover continued.
Hoover was quick to add that those Borough projects that were started will be moving forward. “The Regional Street Light Program contract with Keystone Lighting has been signed, and that will complete the LED streetlight upgrade in the borough.”
The Second Street/Octoraro Alley project is still in line to go out to bid soon. And the $735,000 project including improvements on the streets of Nottingham, Franklin, Garfield and Broad is being prepared to go out for bid and expected to be completed in the summer.
At a time when the Borough stood poised to move forward with the new parking garage and new businesses opening, prospects are on hold for the moment. New businesses opening may not have had the time to build up their client base, but those existing businesses are quick to point out that all of them are in this together.
One of those business owners, John McGlothlin, stressed, “We are all in this together. Each business adds to and feeds off the other. We have to support each other at this time.”
Businesses in the borough, such as McGlothlin’s don’t just support other businesses, they support everything imaginable in the community and surrounding area. That includes sports teams, school funding projects, community improvements, anything youth-oriented, or the non-profits that assist those in crisis.
McGlothlin owns The Sawmill Grill and the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern in Oxford, and manages The Nottingham Inn Kitchen and Creamery in Nottingham, McGlothlin is very concerned about the health and well-being of the population, but feels part of that health includes his employees getting back to work.
“I worry about my employees,” he said. “I know many of them live paycheck to paycheck and I am concerned whether they are able to pay their bills, their rent or mortgage, and put food on their table.”
McGlothlin estimates he has lost 50 percent of his revenue at the Sawmill Grill, 70 percent at the Creamery, and has no income coming in at all from the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern which he closed over a month ago.
McGlothlin laid off workers on March 16, sending them an email with unemployment information. “We tried to look at who needed to work the most and kept 15 out of 75 employees,” he said.
On January 8, he started managing the Nottingham Inn Kitchen and Creamery and only had it a couple months before having to scale down to a limited take-out menu. Then they reopened the ice cream shop.
He is still waiting to receive funding from the Personal Paycheck Protection Program, and does expect some. He did get a response from his bank saying he would receive the funding he applied for, but at this writing he has not received it.
McGlothlin, like many restauranteurs, has been trying to hang on by serving customers with take-out, but that is not paying all the bills, nor does it provide work for all of his employees.
“Take-outs are a completely different ballgame,” he said. “We figured out things the last seven weeks. It is a huge learning process for us and the staff. We are okay for now. The community has blessed us. They are supporting us, by taking advantage of the curbside service and by buying gift cards. I can honestly say, I’ve never worked harder in my life. My wife Nickoel works the front and I work the back. I don’t know what I would do without her. It has been hard on our three daughters as well. We don’t see as much of them as we usually do. And we have to make sure they keep up with their school work.”
He knows when they do open the restaurant, it will be different. “If I can only get one third of the customers in due to the new restrictions, it will be hard to make the sales we need to make to pay for our expenses,” he said. “I am hoping it will open sooner rather than later.”
Always the optimist, McGlothlin always looks for the silver lining. He has learned much during this process. “I think this will make everyone understand you need eight to ten months of income to sustain something like this, he said. ‘I am worried for all of our businesses, but we know we are all in this together and we support each other. We all lean on each other.” He has learned that you have to have a good attitude and stay positive especially at a time like this.
During all of this he said he certainly appreciates his family and loved ones even more. He got very emotional talking about his 81-year-old dad. “I haven’t seen him since Christmas. I want to see him. I worry about his health,” he said. “Family is precious. Everyone’s family is precious, and I just pray we all stay healthy and get through this.”
Kyle DiFilippo is praying for normal too. He has owned Flips Barbershop for eight years and, like others, he is feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This whole ordeal has been devastating to me,” he said, explaining that it appears that we are still a few weeks away from being able to reopen his business.
DiFilippo is worried about the other barber that works with him.“I used to joke with everyone that I would be good with this job unless the Beatles came back and kids started growing their hair long,” he said. “Now, I wonder if it will ever go back to normal.”
DiFilippo is self-employed and has tried to apply for unemployment, but has not yet been able to talk to anyone. He has been closed since the second week in March and things are getting rough. He knows it may be June, or even July, before they can open.
“This all comes after the parking garage was constructed. We lost a lot of money then due to the construction and parking and we were just beginning to get back on our feet,” he said.
He and his wife, have two children, who are also home because school is closed.
“I try to make the best of it,” he said. “I don’t beat myself up. It is what it is. Being a barber is my passion. I love my job. I miss the people. I miss my clients that came in happy to see me.”
He admits that maybe barbers aren’t essential, but says, “people sure feel better when they get a haircut.”
Now he’s just hoping he’ll be returning soon to what he loves.
“My clients are so important to me,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but I give them a service that leaves them feeling good about themselves and gives them confidence. I’ve had people cry when they see the transformation. Kids can’t wait to come back and see me. I have been getting all kinds of messages on social media and texts to my phone from moms and dads telling me they miss me and can’t wait to see me again.”
Kyle is thankful for the clients reaching out with websites on help and places to apply for loans through this pandemic. He added, “People care about Flip the Barber and my family. I’ve held it down in Oxford for 8 years and watched a lot of businesses come and go in that time. The best part about falling down is getting back up. These last few months of this pandemic, although frustrating, have left me knowing how important my business and I am to the community.”
Maggie Garcia-Taylor is a well-known name in the Oxford business community, and her Nationwide Insurance - Garcia-Taylor Insurance Agency Inc. is like so many businesses in Oxford Borough—it is supportive of the community and of the employees. She is very thankful that she is able to work remotely, but admits she is concerned for her employees and her clients.
“My employees are like family,” she said, “and I’m concerned for all of them. We don’t know how long this is going to last. I haven’t been into the office for weeks.”
Nationwide is one of the insurance companies that has reached out to their clients and provided them with a rapid relief refund. They are also working with their clients at this time to ensure they are not missing any discounts they may be eligible for. Garcia-Taylor says this is taking a toll on her emotionally because she is very close with her customers. She misses them.
“Personally, I’m reevaluating everything. I’m sure everyone is. We are trying to figure out how to adapt to this situation. I’ve had some difficulty applying for the Personal Paycheck Protection Program. We hope to hear something soon,” she said. At this point she doesn’t feel hopeful.
“We will keep treading along. Like everyone else I’m just looking for normal, but I don’t know what that will be,” she explained.
The Borough of Oxford has been tested before, but never like this. Each business has been creative in how they are handling this pandemic.
Wholly Grounds Coffeehouse is one of those creative businesses that is doing curbside pickup. LOLA’s Boutique is actually entertaining people online. Check out the Facebook page for more information. Nella Naturals, which were formerly the Soap Bucket, has made lemonade out of lemons by boosting their production of hand sanitizer—a product very much in demand.
Check out all Oxford Borough businesses that you were doing business with before the pandemic and let them know you are still out there. They are coming back, and now they need your support.