Backlash against N.C’s anti-trans law is destroying small businesses

Cancellations of concerts and conventions threaten to hurt restaurants, hotels and small businesses in Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte and Greensboro. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that 12 groups have canceled events in Wake County, where Raleigh is located. Another 31 are reconsidering their plans to hold events, the bureau said; that puts nearly $36 million in visitor spending in jeopardy.

Shish Kebab, a restaurant down the street from the Raleigh Convention Center, stands to lose between 10 percent and 20 percent of its business when an event is canceled, owner Sam Yehia says. No one is talking about going out of business.

“There’s nothing at this point we can do,” Yehia says.

Businesses in North Carolina are in a similar situation to those shut down by disasters or affected by military base closings, losing business to circumstances beyond their control, says Dennis Ceru, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College. He recommends companies build cash reserves to help them handle a drop in revenue.

“Small business owners are tossed about on the oceans of business cycles more so than large companies are,” Ceru says.

Companies hoping to recruit workers to North Carolina are also concerned. Craft beer brewing has become a big industry in North Carolina over the past two decades, but Keil Jansen is worried that he won’t be able to attract people experienced in beer making to his growing Durham brewery, Ponysaurus Brewing Co. He’s afraid the people he’d want to hire will be drawn to states like California and Colorado seen as more socially progressive than North Carolina.

“If you know how to run this stuff (the brewing process) and run it well, you can live anywhere and work where you want,” says Jansen, whose company was launched in 2013.

When Jansen has an opening, he expects to advertise the fact that Durham is more liberal than other parts of the state. In the meantime, he’s trying to let his customers know he doesn’t agree with the law. Ponysaurus and another brewery are producing a new beer and plan to donate the profits to gay-rights groups.

The passage of the bill came as Michael and Kathryn Westcott are trying to launch a business catering to tourists. They’re opening up their farm in Snow Camp for what are called “haycations,” in which city and suburban people can spend time on a working farm. Their target market is the Northeast, and Michael Westcott is concerned that when summer arrives and people take vacations, out-of-staters won’t come to the state because of the law.

“It casts a negative shadow over North Carolina,” he says.

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