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‘The tears come every day’: Small business owners hope worst is behind them as they look to reopen

At the Covered Bridge Café in Stayton, which sits in Marion County, the last two months have been miserable for owner Cari Sessums.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As counties apply to reopen, thousands of small businesses owners around Oregon hope the coronavirus nightmare for them will soon end.

Not every county is expected to open Friday morning. But that doesn’t stop the hope among business owners.

At the Covered Bridge Café in Stayton, which sits in Marion County, the last two months have been miserable for owner Cari Sessums.

“Really hard,” she said while wiping away a tear.

“I mean the restaurant business is hard anyway. It’s almost like a different business, but we’re doing it all by ourselves. So, we have two cooks that we’ve kept employed part-time and they’re actually working for free the rest of the time to help us because they want us to make it,” Sessums said.

She applied for help from the federal government but has not received anything. Her business volume dropped below half when she followed rules but into place by Gov. Kate Brown and switched her café to takeout only.

“The tears come every day. Some days you just feel really strong and you think it’s going to be OK -- we’ll get through it. And then other days you’ll have a customer come in to pick up their order and they’ll just say to you, 'Are you going to be OK?' And you just lose it. You just cry,” she said.

But Sessums is still looking forward. She said work is underway in the banquet room, hoping that Friday customers can return.

In another part of Marion County, Michelle Adame thought about her three Copy Cats stores, which specialize in printing and banners and trophies and more. She has stores in West Salem, Keizer and McMinnville.

“It is difficult being a business owner in this environment. And not knowing what tomorrow brings. And having a lot of customers that are afraid, having employees that are afraid. And trying to navigate it to where we don’t lose everything that we have,” she said.

Business is down significantly. Adame closed her stores in Keizer and McMinnville, thinking that was required by the governor’s order, but then recently opened them again as money got tighter and she saw similar businesses operating.

She got a federal loan but now feels the squeeze of a looming deadline to hire back the same number of employees, so she does not need to repay the federal money.

But she’s run into a new problem. She’s had several job candidates simply not show up.

“Employees not wanting to come back to work because they’re making $4,000 a month on unemployment, approximately,” said Adame.

“It’s really hard to get those key employees,” she added.

RELATED: What happens when unemployment benefits pay more than your job?

It’s been a grueling time for many who struggle to carry so much stress and uncertainty and fear. Everyone hopes the worst has passed.

Sessums especially looks forward to the return of local customers.

“So many of our customers are like our family. And we have a lot of older people and they look forward to coming in and sitting down and having coffee and breakfast and chatting with us. Sometimes we’re the only people they get to chat with. They’re so excited. The phone keeps ringing, 'I heard you could open on Friday!' Say your prayers, it could happen,” she said with a smile.

There is no guarantee Marion or any other county will get approval to enter Phase 1 and start relaxing some coronavirus rules. Gov. Brown will make an announcement on Thursday about which counties will be able to reopen.

RELATED: Oregon Gov. Brown to announce Thursday which counties qualify to enter Phase 1 of reopening