Determinants of Small Business Reopening Decisions After COVID Restrictions Were Lifted
69 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2020 Last revised: 14 Sep 2021
Date Written: August 31, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic led to dramatic economic disruptions, including government-imposed restrictions that temporarily shuttered millions of American businesses. We use a nation-wide survey of thousands of small business owners to establish three main facts about business owners’ decisions to reopen at the end of the lockdowns. First, roughly 60% of firms planned to reopen within days of the end of legal restrictions, suggesting that the lockdowns were generally binding for businesses - although nearly 30% expected to delay their reopening by at least a month. Second, decisions to delay reopenings did not seem to be driven by concerns about employee or customer health; even businesses in high-proximity sectors with the highest health risks generally reported intentions to reopen as soon as possible. Third, pessimistic demand projections primarily explain delays among firms that could legally reopen. Owners expected demand to be one-third lower than before the crisis throughout the pandemic. Using experimentally induced shocks to perceived demand, we find that a 10% decline in expected demand results in a 1.5 percentage point (8%) increase in the likelihood that firms expected to remain closed for at least one month after being legally able to open. We use follow-up surveys to cross-validate expectations with realized outcomes. Overall, our results suggest that governments were setting more stringent guidelines for reopening, relative to what many businesses would have selected, suggesting that governments may have internalized costs of contagion that businesses did not.
Keywords: COVID-19; demand forecasting; reopening;
JEL Classification: D22, E32, I15, L23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation