By Claudia Delgadillo, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Mar 21, 2020 at 9:01 AM

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As the COVID-19 outbreak forces restaurants and businesses across the country to close, many small businesses throughout Milwaukee are struggling to find ways to stay open.

Some restaurants, in particular, are adjusting their operations to make to-go orders and provide curbside pickup for customers.

Lopez Bakery and Restaurant, 1100 W Historic Mitchell St., is one business making such changes. Owner Cindy Lopez said she also faces another challenge: sustaining her employees.

"We’ll stay open as long as we can, and it’s not just affecting the business owners, it’s affecting our employees because this is their job," Lopez said. "I’m trying to work with my employees and asking them if they would take a pay cut and just work a couple hours because anything for them would help."

Employees at Lopez Bakery have worked there for years, and Lopez said she doesn’t want to see any of them have to leave.

"I’m really worried that a business that has been in business for 47 years might not be around anymore," Lopez said in tears. "It hurts. My employees are my family. They know that it affects us, and it’s going to affect them, too."

The Sherman Phoenix, 3536 W Fond Du Lac Ave., announced it’s closing the building to the public and will not open until further notice. Adija Greer-Smith, owner of Confectionately Yours inside the Sherman Phoenix, said she expects the decision to have a huge hit on her new business.

"We have not been open long enough to have a surplus of emergency funds. We are just scratching the surface," Greer-Smith said. "We don’t know how long this will go on. We don’t know if there are any efforts that are in our favor."

Confectionately Yours, which has only been in business since late 2018, has seven employees that now have to apply for temporary unemployment while the shop is closed.

"I’m going to have my employees file for unemployment temporarily. I don’t know how long that will sustain them," she said. "We need all the prayers we can get, and if there are resources available for us, I’m not too prideful to say we need all the help we can get right now."

Businesses like Rise and Grind Cafe, 2737 N Martin Luther King Drive, are already losing money and thinking of other ways to stay financially afloat.

"We are working on further avenues to bring in revenue so we can sustain our staff and our customer base," café co-owner Larina Hightower said. "We are trying to have a meal program that would offer healthy home-cooked meals to families that may not be able to get to the grocery store properly. It’s definitely going to be a strain because we are worried about keeping our staff."

The biggest question on the minds of business owners is if they can sustain themselves as they limit operations, said Beth Haskovec, program officer at Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

She said small neighborhood-based businesses are the most vulnerable.

"Things are changing very rapidly, and the biggest thing is that we’re waiting for some sort of response from the senate and the state level around support for small business," Haskovec said.