Missouri Minute: Grocers institute new shopping rules; Blues launching esports division

Good morning, MBA readers,

Monday marks the first day that all of Missouri falls under a stay-at-home order, with the state now enforcing a policy that multiple municipalities had already adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As individuals across Missouri adjust to elevated restrictions, businesses and industries continue to evolve their approaches to challenges introduced by the coronavirus. As producers in the state’s agricultural sector hope to weather low commodity prices, some are hopeful they can refinance debt while interest rates are low. At grocery stores across the state, demand remains high, necessitating new processes to protect customers from the spread of the coronavirus. And as the St. Louis Blues approach the one-month mark since their last hockey game, the team is launching an esports division and plans to host a pair of video game tournaments. Catch up on these stories and the rest of the day’s top business news below.

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Parson calls for medical volunteers to boost workforce
Gov. Mike Parson on Saturday called on health care students and retired doctors and nurses to join the Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which will supplement the existing health care workforce in Missouri in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Columbia Missourian)

Missouri lawmakers expected to pass millions in coronavirus aid
Legislators plan to return to Jefferson City this week to pass a supplemental budget that includes around $40 million in state and federal pandemic relief funds. (St. Louis Public Radio)

For beleaguered Missouri farmers, coronavirus presents double-edged sword
The ongoing pandemic poses short-term challenges and long-term opportunities for Missouri farmers. Low crop prices and trade uncertainty continue to endanger farmers’ livelihoods, but many of them are rushing to refinance with historically low interest rates, an unexpected byproduct of the COVID-19 outbreak. (St. Louis Public Radio)

State AG will only go after ‘most egregious’ price gougers
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office received more than 250 complaints from March 1 to March 24 of businesses selling essential goods at large markups. But the state will likely only prosecute the worst price gougers, a spokesperson for Schmitt said. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis grocers adopt new shopping rules to limit viral exposure
Schnucks and Dierbergs are now asking customers to send only one person per household to shop for groceries. At each store, customers will queue up to enter the store under occupancy restrictions. A local Trader Joe’s stopped bagging groceries in outside bags brought by the customer. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis Blues jump into esports
The NHL team has established an esports division, called Blues Gaming, in partnership with Maryville University’s Rawlings Sport Business Management Program. Blues Gaming will host a pair of online video game tournaments later this month. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Commerce Bank delays quarterly filing, takes annual meeting online
Kansas City-based Commerce Bancshares, the parent firm for Commerce Bank, announced Friday it will delay the release of first-quarter earnings by two weeks and switch to a virtual-only shareholders’ meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis taps into reserve funds padded by parking revenue
The city’s parking commission has allocated an additional $5 million in reserve funds, roughly doubling the amount the city has spent already this year in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Springfield nonprofit to provide 1 million meals in 90 days
Ozarks Food Harvest is raising $250,000 needed to provide 1 million meals in 90 days, roughly a 25% increase in its distribution. The organization’s CEO called the current need “unprecedented.” (Springfield Business Journal)

Major Brands donates $100,000 to restaurant workers fund
The St. Louis-based alcohol distributor has donated to the Missouri Restaurant Association Workers Benefit Fund, which hopes to raise funds to support the state’s roughly 300,000 restaurant employees during the ongoing pandemic. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis’ biggest office tower heads to second auction in a year
The former AT&T Tower will again be up for an online auction next week, with a starting bid of $7 million. AT&T sold the 44-story building in 2006 for nearly $205 million and vacated it in 2017. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Welk Resorts to shed Branson workforce due to pandemic
The California-based resort chain plans to temporarily lay off or furlough 94 employees in Branson for less than six months. (Springfield Business Journal)

Say that again

“It’s a horrible time to open. If my customers didn’t love my product, I don’t know what I would do.”

That’s Kent Harrison, a Kansas City-area restaurateur, who opened a new location of Tay’s Burger Shack just before the area’s COVID-19 caseload surged, The Kansas City Star reports. When it opened March 11 in Overland Park, Kansas, the restaurant was packed with customers. Harrison planned to carry on with dine-in and take-out services like his other locations and ease into drive-thru service by late April. Then came the shelter-in-place order, which accelerated the drive-thru timetable and greatly diminished the flood of new customers. Now, Harrison relies on a stream of repeat customers. It’s a similar story for plenty of other local entrepreneurs. Still, Harrison doesn’t want to dwell on the negative. “We had a grand opening for the dining room, then a grand opening for the drive-thru and then we’ll have to have another grand opening for the dining room again,” he said. “But I’m full of gratitude for the community supporting us and keeping people employed.”

Go figure

< 25%

That’s how much average mobility has decreased so far in Missouri amid a worsening pandemic, according to location data analytics firm Unacast. As part its COVID-19 Toolkit, the New York company has released a Social Distancing Scoreboard. The report grades states and counties for their social distancing efforts based on how much travel has decreased in an area. Overall, the U.S. currently holds a “D” rating with a decrease of 25% to 40% in average mobility and a roughly 55% drop in non-essential visits. Missouri is one of seven states with an “F” grade, with less than a 55% reduction in non-essential visits. The city of St. Louis, which had roughly 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, got a “C” — the state’s highest grade by county — with a reduction of between 65% and 70% in non-essential visits.

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That’s Gov. Mike Parson on Friday explaining his new statewide stay-at-home order, which takes effect Monday and runs through April 24. The order requires all public and charter schools, as well as non-essential businesses, to shut down or switch to remote work. It marks a course reversal for Parson, who had repeatedly resisted calls to issue statewide restrictions since the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 7. Instead, he had deferred the decision to local governments, many of which implemented stay-at-home policies of their own that will complement the new state order. The order was largely applauded, with some commentators arguing it came too late. The shift toward a statewide shutdown through Easter comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow. As of Sunday, state officials had confirmed 2,367 cases and 34 deaths.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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