A former County Council candidate and local gym founder is leading the charge to mobilize hundreds of small businesses claiming coronavirus-related restrictions are unfair to "mom and pop" shops.
Danny Farrar, CEO and founder of SoldierFit, which has a gym in Frederick and several locations across the region, started the Bear the Burden Coalition last month. Since then, the group has grown to more than 1,000 members on Facebook, many of which are small business owners in Frederick County and the region.
Farrar said coalition members are fine with social distancing, mask wearing and some capacity restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The issue, they argue, is that big box stores like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot and others are seeing record profits while small businesses suffer.
"We're all for social distancing, we're all for wearing the masks, we're all for — COVID is real and we need to ... treat it as such," Farrar said. "We're just not for a different set of rules for two different people playing the [same] game ... if small businesses have to go to 50 percent capacity, cool, we'll go to 50 percent capacity. [But] Walmart has got to go to 50 percent capacity, and enforce it."
Capacity restrictions and other regulations apply to big-box stores and smaller retailers and businesses alike. But Farrar and other business owners have argued through social media posts and comments that bigger businesses frequently have large crowds, and these regulations are rarely enforced the same as with smaller businesses.
Farrar is concerned about the long-term economic implications of the pandemic, as well as the prospect of many people facing increased mortgage payments or facing eviction in the coming months. He's also worried about the mental health of employees at small businesses that have furloughed and laid off those workers.
Amy Masser, who runs Baby Face Photography, a home-based photography studio focused on newborns in the Ballenger Creek area, is one of the coalition's members. Because she is a sole proprietor, she has gotten no monetary assistance from local, state or federal government except for the $1,200 stimulus check earlier this year.
Masser, who has run her business for more than two decades, said she's seen friends struggling with their small businesses throughout the pandemic.
"Walmart has different rules than all the other downtown shops … what they’re doing is not right," Masser said of restrictions. "Walmart can grease the pockets, and we can’t."
"I really like the leaders of this group. It’s not political, it’s just, 'Be fair,'" she added. "I’m friends with a lot of people in the group, and we do not share the same political views, but we are together on this."
Nicole Knight is a co-owner of Smooch! Studio in downtown Frederick, a makeup boutique. Knight said business was down roughly 75 percent through the spring, which meant federal, state and local assistance from loans and grants went quick.
As a member of Bear the Burden, Knight said local government officials need to respect small business owners as much as the big-box stores.
"The hypocrisy of the double standards to deem big-box stores necessary and small business as unnecessary is ridiculous," Knight wrote in an email. "We have more motivation and ability to control our environments and keep them safe, sterile and healthy than a big-box store ever will with their crowds and hundreds of employees."
Earlier this year, Farrar and other executives at SoldierFit sacrificed two or three paychecks in order to make sure no one was furloughed or laid off. Farrar said he makes $75,000 annually in his role.
He's had difficult discussions with his employees about financial struggles and upcoming costs—something government officials should keep in mind as the pandemic continues.
"I got people who have kids on the way," Farrar said. "Like, people don't understand that aspect of the small business side of the house ... sitting there, having those types of conversations, you tear up at that kind of s---."