The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on the U.S. economy, driving countless retailers into bankruptcy and leading to widespread store closures. But things have been even more dire for small businesses. As of late September, roughly 100,000 of them had permanently shut down. At that time, the National Federation of Independent Business predicted that if things didn't quickly improve, one in five small businesses may not survive by the end of the year.
Of course, business closures don't just impact the people who own them; they also affect communities. When stores close down, jobs go down with them.
Business closures can also be catastrophic from a real estate investing standpoint. Vacant shopping centers can lend to decreased property values and force both residential and commercial landlords to lower rents, hurting their bottom line. Widespread commercial vacancies are also a likely outcome if small businesses continue to drop like flies. And given there's been limited government aid since the pandemic began, the outlook at this point is pretty bleak.
But there is one thing that could perhaps save small businesses: a national mask mandate. It's something president-elect Joe Biden has talked about in the past, and it could help save countless local economies from long-term ruin.
Will a mask mandate take effect?
Joe Biden recently announced that one of his first acts as U.S. president will be to ask Americans to commit to wearing masks for 100 days. President Trump, though seen in public wearing a mask on many occasions, has yet to ask the public to take this step.
Biden says he's convinced that 100 days of mask-wearing will have a significant impact on the pandemic, and his initial strategy will be to appeal to Americans and their sense of patriotic duty rather than enforce a widespread mandate. However, if the public doesn't comply, a more official mandate may be necessary.
Of course, that begs the question: Will widespread mask-wearing really help businesses? In many ways, it could. The simple act of wearing masks is, according to health experts, one means of stopping the coronavirus in its tracks. If the outbreak starts to wane, local restrictions can be lifted, and businesses may be in a position to operate at a more robust capacity.
Widespread mask-wearing will also make shopping in stores a safer notion. That could, in turn, result in an uptick in foot traffic for small businesses.
Let's also remember that at this point, there are a number of viable coronavirus vaccine candidates in the pipeline, but it'll still be several months until the general public can be vaccinated. If Americans by and large wear masks for 100 days beginning on Jan. 20 -- Inauguration Day -- it could have a substantial impact.
To be clear, Biden's initial plan is to ask the public to embrace mask-wearing. But if there's a glaring lack of compliance, a mask mandate would likely be the next step. And while such a mandate would be unquestionably difficult to enforce, it could help mitigate an already dangerous situation, all the while helping small businesses survive the next number of months.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are still working on a stimulus bill to follow late March's CARES Act that should, in theory, include a fair amount of small business aid. But whether it'll be enough to tide local establishments over is a different story. As such, mask-wearing could really end up being a lifeline for small businesses -- and the communities that rely on them in more ways than one.