ENID, Okla. — More than a couple hundred pizzas were cooked Wednesday for customers “mobbing” Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub as part of a Facebook group supporting local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each Wednesday for the last month, members of the Facebook group Enid Cash Mob have ordered food from an Enid restaurant, then posted photos of themselves with the food on the group and their personal profiles.

Previous weeks’ eateries people “cash mobbed” included Lot-a-Burger, Lenox Drive In and Taco Bandito.

Brick Oven owner Charles Glasscock was just happy to make it through what he called a record day, he said, and wanted to thank his staff, family and the Enid community for the support.

“First, I was a bit scared, but personally, I thought it was just a really awesome thing to do for the town — keep the money in the town and support your local businesses,” he said.

Since the city of Enid limited regular food service as part of its social distancing restrictions on March 16, Glasscock said keeping his doors open has been a struggle.

“Everything changed overnight. I didn’t have a say in it or anything,” he said.

Supporting those ‘supporting us’

Andrew Ewbank isn’t just doing this for the pizza, but to return the favor.

The Enid attorney, who co-founded and admins the Facebook group with Torrie Vann, is quick to point out that the intent of the group is to provide relief to local eateries and other businesses during the pandemic. The idea of mobbing businesses with customers isn’t new, he says, but it is to Enid during this time.

“We go around and ask businesses all the time to support our kids’ pewee football team or provide for prom. And right now it’s such a weird time that we know those businesses are struggling with not having their normal customers in,” Ewbank said. “So we want to support the people who are always supporting us.”

More than 3,300 people have joined the Facebook group since its creation on March 31. About 2,000 of those members are “active,” having liked, commented or posted photos in the group, which now number more than 13,000 total, Ewbank said, citing Facebook statistics.

The group is mostly member-driven: Members nominate businesses, which Ewbank keeps a list of and then publishes a poll Friday until Monday morning. The winner of that poll is that Wednesday’s choice eatery to “mob.”

The Facebook group also has started voting on a retail mob poll, including retail outlets such as boutiques, garden houses and screen printers, among other local outlets. The first store voted was The Garden House and Nursery Inc.

Dollars that stay home

Lisa Powell, director of Enid Regional Development Association, said one fiscal benefit of shopping local is sales tax growth within the local business community. Money spent locally circulates multiple times over through the community.

Unlike corporate franchise or chain businesses, she said, local businesses do their own business locally — banking at local banks, purchasing insurance through local insurance providers and so on.

“From my perspective, it’s that our locally owned businesses don’t have the support of a corporation behind them or a franchise behind them that may provide other financial or operational support they don’t have,” Powell said. “It’s just those people in town who’ve put their own money and capital forward to do their thing, and they just have themselves to rely on.”

Powell said the Facebook group’s efforts dovetail nicely with ERDA and Main Street Enid’s recent Shop Local gift card giveaway partnership. For every $20 customers submit receipts for, they are eligible for a $100 gift card in a weekly drawing through the end of May.

ERDA also has several programs available for local businesses seeking assistance during the pandemic, as well as resources for funding from USDA and the Small Business Administration, on its website at growenid.org.

SBA has approved nearly 476,000 loans to small lenders totaling more than $52 billion as of Tuesday, part of its nearly $310 billion coronavirus relief, the program’s second round. A first $349 billion round of funding was depleted in less than two weeks with the SBA approving 1.7 million, with many small business owners reporting delays and difficulties accessing the SBA’s processing system ETran.

Those loans are available online at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options.

Ready for ‘back to normal’

The three-phased plan to reopen Enid’s economy is expected to begin Friday. Among businesses reopening, restaurants will be required to maintain 6 feet of distance between customers and follow Oklahoma Restaurant Association guidelines.

Glasscock said he hopes the reopening means a return to normal for business at his restaurant — albeit with the social distancing guidelines in place.

“I just hope to see some of my old customers … That’s what I really, really can’t wait for, is for everybody to get back to normal.”

At a study session last week, ERDA director Powell presented a survey sent to ERDA members that indicated a majority of respondents were ready to reopen with proper safety measures in place.

“I don’t believe businesses reopening and being safe and smart for our customers are mutually exclusive,” she said Tuesday, praising the monthly phased approach Mayor George Pankonin proposed. “If you’re smart — and everyone has to continually be smart — you can do both, and cautiously watching the data to see we don’t see a spike in cases.”

Since Thursday, Garfield County has recorded 15 cases, with eight recovered and one death, an 86-year-old Garfield County woman. Four more people tested positive Monday. As of Wednesday, there have been 3,743 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 214 total deaths since the first official case was identified by OSDH on March 6.

Article by: Alex Ewald – Enid News and Eagle

Photo by Billy Hefton