The people of Charlotte are stepping up

Plus: There are an awful lot of restaurant jobs at risk; Amazon to hire 100,000 nationally; Local liquor sales 'brisk,' ABC board says

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Volunteers emerge all over town to help the needy; Pallet of Costco oatmeal in Ballantyne

After a few days of shock and despair at the life-altering spread of the coronavirus, Charlotte now seems to be showing resilience.

OK, sure — stocks are down 30% in the last month. Restaurants and bars and stores are closing. Large group gatherings — first defined as 100 people, then 50 — are now redefined as groups of 10 or more. And it’s becoming clear that a lot of people, especially hourly workers, are going to be losing money for weeks. And the effects of this crisis could drag on for months.

Yet around Charlotte, to help those who are feeling the brunt of the shutdown of schools and businesses, there were signs of people stepping forward — people like Heather McAfee.

McAfee, a Ballantyne mom, pulled together a food drive for CMS families — in a day.

After hearing the news of immediate school closures on Saturday afternoon, she rounded up friends in five south Charlotte neighborhoods whose homes could be collection points, got administrators at Community House Middle School to agree to be a distribution spot, and at 2:02 pm Sunday pounded out a message on email and social media: “Immediate food need by 9:30 am tomorrow morning.”

Then, the food and cash donations poured in. 

Pallet of granola bars: At 4 p.m. Sunday, McAfee sent her husband, Robert, and two sons to Costco with the $900 people had Venmoed so far. They loaded a pallet with oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, fruit cups and granola bars.

All evening Sunday, friends sent her photos of their front porches and dining room tables filling up with food donations.

On Monday morning, minivans streamed into Community House and unloaded in the school’s cafeteria, and volunteers sorted enough nonperishable food to fill 350 grocery bags.

Ballantyne mom Heather McAfee organized a one-day food drive that resulted in buying 350 bags of groceries for families in poverty.

Some 100 families, who’d learned about the food drive through Sunday night Connect-Ed robocalls or Facebook posts, came through the doors between 11:30 a.m and 1:30 p.m. Monday. Ballantyne has a reputation of being one of Charlotte’s wealthy enclaves. But the truth is there are still needs.

‘Mind-blowing’: The speed at which the community responded left her speechless: “It’s mind-blowing that something like this could happen so fast. … I think we look around and we think that everybody is fine, but are we really taking the time to know our neighbors and find out what they need?”

Other examples emerged Monday, too:

  • PR firm Black Wednesday and Hygge Coworking launched a website designed to allow Charlotte residents to support locally owned businesses that are hurting. Businesses list a promotional offer that involves no face-to-face contact, and consumers buy. The site, Support Local or Else, says: “We are facing strange and hard times, and local proprietors, the people who have made an extreme investment in our city in order to create something unique and special for the local population to enjoy, are suffering greatly.” By this morning, it had nearly 70 local businesses offering deals. Black Wednesday owner Corri Smith told The Ledger it’s a way to connect the city: “I’m hoping that it turns into something that people actually use.”

  • Over at the Government Center, the Foundation for the Carolinas and the United Way of Central Carolinas announced they are accepting donations for the COVID-19 Response Fund, which will dispense money to the city’s nonprofits. LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda announced a $1M donation, and Mayor Vi Lyles said the city would kick in an additional $1M. Lebda said: “We want to make sure this money gets to the people who need help who are not infected by this virus but who are affected by this virus.”

  • A GoFundMe account started by the founder of The Loyalist Market in Matthews exceeded its $30,000 fundraising goal to raise money to give to 20 restaurants so they can provide lunches to needy children. By this morning, it had raised more than $33,000 from 643 donors in a single day.

And in the Lake Norman area, The Observer reported:

Ashley Nydish [president of Bags of Hope] said that Bags of Hope put out a call Thursday for donations and volunteers to stuff extended spring break bags, which contain enough meals for a longer time away from school.

“We’ve been unbelievably blown away by the amount of support and love shared within 72 hours,” she said, “from monetary donations to calls asking where we can bring items in.”

It’s true that we have a lot of problems at the moment, and more will arise — probably some we can’t even anticipate. But it’s reassuring to see people in times of fear and uncertainty who recognize a need and step forward to help.

How to help

In addition to the examples above, here are a couple resources for pitching in locally:

A closer look at those restaurant jobs

Last week, it looked as though most of the economic damage from the coronavirus would be confined to the travel sector. But now, it’s looking broader and is seeping into the larger leisure and hospitality sector, as bars and restaurants are closing or scaling back to take-out and delivery only.

Charlotte Agenda had a round-up of 25 restaurant owners talking about the challenges of running their businesses — with some facing declines in sales of up to 80%.

Let’s look a little more closely at this sector in the Charlotte region. There are about 147,000 workers in leisure and hospitality in the metro area, or a little under 12% of the total jobs. The category includes accommodation and food services. Not all of those jobs are going to disappear, of course … but a lot of them could, at least temporarily. That’s a big deal.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, 88% of the region’s jobs are not in this sector. Some jobs in other sectors will still be affected, but probably not as drastically as those businesses and positions that are literally customer-facing. Here’s the breakdown of jobs in the Charlotte region:

Leisure and hospitality, the sector most devastated by the effects of the coronavirus, is the #4 source of employment in the Charlotte region. Source: December 2019 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The airline industry on Monday asked for a $50B bailout from Washington. There are probably a lot of folks in Charlotte who could get behind a bar and restaurant bailout.

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Loves me some internet

March 15, 2020

Local coronavirus round-up for last 24 hours:

In brief:

  • Liquor sales ‘brisk’: The head of the Mecklenburg County ABC Board said Monday it had no plans to close stores and is evaluating the situation. “Our sales have been brisk over the last few days,” CEO Jason Hughes told The Ledger. It won’t release sales figures until the end of the month.

  • Big rezonings postponed: The rezoning hearings for Northwood Office’s Ballantyne plans and for Atrium Health’s plans at Carolinas Medical Center were postponed. They were supposed to take place Monday night.

  • Added jobs: North Carolina added 15,000 jobs in January, according to federal figures released Monday. That’s before the effect of the coronavirus. Use this figure as your baseline: 4,608,900. That’s the number of people working in the state in January. The state’s unemployment rate in January was 3.6%.

  • Amazon hiring: Amazon said Monday it will hire 100,000 workers nationally as consumers turn to online orders. “We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year,” a company official said. Workers who have lost their jobs in the hospitality, restaurant and travel industries are encouraged to apply, the company said. The company’s needs in the Charlotte area are unclear, but the company has four facilities in the Charlotte area: in Charlotte on Wilkinson Boulevard and Tuckaseegee Road, as well as in Kannapolis and Concord. (Yahoo Finance)

Programming notes:

  • Online personal finance discussion tomorrow: The Ledger will be holding an online discussion Wednesday afternoon featuring a panel of financial planners. With financial markets in turmoil and big changes on household finances, they’ll take your questions on personal finance and give helpful perspectives. We tried one of these a couple weeks ago on commercial real estate, and it went well. Look for an email at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday that starts the discussion and gives you a link. The discussion will last an hour and will be available afterward. (It is a text discussion, not video/audio.)

  • Radio appearance: Ledger editor Tony Mecia will appear as a guest on “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins” this morning to discuss the economic effects of the coronavirus in Charlotte. Other panelists are Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner and Washington Post personal finance writer Michelle Singletary. It’s at 9 a.m. today on 90.7 WFAE, and audio will be available online afterward.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Editor: Tony Mecia; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire