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With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic causing severe economic dislocations worldwide, RAND researchers conducted a series of interviews with small-business owners, especially those with a physical and visible presence in their communities, to gain a better understanding of the challenges that these businesses are facing as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and what kinds of policies might help them survive. The 21 interviewees came from a variety of sectors⁠—owners of restaurants and small retail shops, specialty grocers, business-support and advisory organizations, small amusement parks, a hair salon, a yoga studio, a specialty manufacturer, an outdoor recreation company, and a painting contractor. Interviews focused on four principal issues: how the pandemic is affecting businesses; what business owners see as the biggest threats to their businesses; what assistance they have been able to access; and, most important, what they will need for their businesses to thrive once the immediate public-health crisis has passed. Although this group was not representative of the vast range of U.S. small businesses, a variety of experiences, challenges, and ideas for making assistance programs more effective were revealed. The most common concern was the need for assistance in covering fixed operating costs—most prominently, rent and mortgage payments but also utilities and insurance. Concerns about worker safety and liability were also mentioned. Adjustments to existing policies were also discussed, such as better government communications, clear rules for reopening businesses, and coordinated reopening policies across neighboring jurisdictions.

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