Pictured (l-r): William Gandy Jr., Margaret Cowan and James Cook.

This is the fifth installment of The New Tri-State Defender’s ongoing account of three Memphians coping with the coronavirus amid government-directed efforts to slow the virus’ spread.

An eye-opening moment

James Cook (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

When James Cook was forced to close his two businesses at Memphis International Airport – Runway 901 Bar & Grill and Lenny’s Grill and Subs – because of a lack of airport passengers, he went to work for another Lenny’s franchisee.

And, to supplement that income, he began working for his father’s landscaping business. He cuts grass in the morning and then clocks in at a Midtown area Lenny’s at 2 p.m.

Tuesday, he told The New Tri-State Defender that Lenny’s business has increased to a point where he can rehire some of the workers he had to lay off from his airport businesses. It would be for 24 to 30 hours a week.

There were no takers, he said.

“A lot don’t want to come back until the unemployment supplements end in July. The unemployment is paying them more a week than I can pay them. I don’t blame them,” Cook said.

Tennessee has begun paying approved unemployment claimants their $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit, in addition to their Tennessee Unemployment Compensation (TUC) benefit.

Claimants, under current guidelines, will be eligible for the additional $600 under the FPUC program until July 31, 2020.

Cook thinks other businesses looking for workers are facing the same problem. That said, he still needs to find workers.

“Right now, I’m having to try to find high school students or people, who can’t qualify for unemployment (to fill the jobs),” Cook said.

Meanwhile, he and other airport concessionaires engaged in a conference call last. “We’re all waiting until June,” he said.

That is when they anticipate airport traffic will pick up enough to allow them to start planning to reopen.

A learning opportunity reopens 

Margaret Cowan, founding keeper of the nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, which works with single working mothers to increase their earning potential, recently received some good news.

The Assisi Foundation is restarting its “Before You Ask” educational series, designed to help nonprofit leaders and staff  “further define and refine goals and strategy before you ask for necessary funding.”

Cowan said, “You have to take the course before you ask them for money.”

It is a 12-week course, where nonprofit leaders met with presenters once a week. “We were at 10 weeks when it stopped because of (COVID-19) virus concerns,” Cook said.

Now, the last two sessions will be held virtually.

The course, according to the Assisi website, covers “what every nonprofit should know before applying for a grant.”

Cowan said her organization probably is not ready to apply for a grant. However, the course has reinforced the necessity of her nonprofit to complete a strategic plan, which she has been working to complete.

Still, she said joining the classes has been beneficial because of the networking and contacts she has made, and what she has learned.

Looking toward May 10

That is when William Gandy Jr. hopes he can get back to cutting hair, realizing there will be restrictions.

William Gandy Jr.

Those restrictions include having customers make an appointment so that none of the barbers will have more than one customer in the shop at the same time, masks, social distancing, and sanitizing his equipment and barber chair after finishing each customer.

Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order Tuesday, extending the closure of bars and close-contact businesses through the end of May, but said Wednesday he planned to reopen salons and barber shops in the state’s rural areas May 6.

The state’s six largest counties are excluded. The governor has allowed officials in those counties, including Memphis-Shelby, to determine when it is safe to reopen businesses.

Meanwhile, Gandy said his brother, Joseph Gandy, has been released from quarantine after recovering from the virus.

“Now he has to worry about not doing what he shouldn’t have been doing in the first place,” William said.


Living through COVID-19 — Part IV


Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part III

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part II

Maneuvering through the perils of COVID-19