Two months into the COVID-19 outbreak and a third month of May looming, downtown business owners are giving themselves a pep talk to persevere. Not only does COVID-19 challenge our health, it also impacts the downtown business community in mentally and economically challenging ways.
Some commentary collected from downtown business owners shows honest and yet positive and hopeful outlooks:
“This experience sucks,” said Elizabeth Truong of Lee’s Sandwiches, who reduced staffing at its Santa Clara and Sixth Street shop from 20 to 5 and reduced hours to 9 a.m.-6 p.m. “But it also made me realize that the world will change after this and I need to learn to adapt.
“Personally, I feel like the fire in my belly just reignited, that this is the time for entrepreneurs to dig deep and remember how it was when you started on Day 1 with a ton of learning, adjusting, debt and training new employees.
“It’s humbling. We’re all different but really the same. We’re going to get through this with a greater appreciation for everything.”
At Pageboy Salon on Post Street, owners Jasmine Lazzarino and Blair Carson and staff of five others, including three stylists, can’t work.
“We physically have to touch someone to get paid,” Carson said. “We have been doing this for 20 years. It’s a recession-proof business because everyone needs to get their hair cut. But not if I can’t go into work. What do we do now?”
“Others are in the same position – and it’s indefinite when we can go back,” Lazzarino added.
For one thing, they hope that when shelter-in-place is lifted and people feel comfortable returning to the shop, Lazzarino and Carson hope they are “super busy.”
“Everybody’s going to come out of this looking a little scruffy,” Carson said.
Meanwhile, they join legions of local small businesses applying for every grant and loan they qualify for, get in touch with their landlords to discuss rent payments, and urge clients to rebook, pre-pay and purchase products, the best way they can be supported.
“To be clear, we’re not encouraging people to do touchups at home,” Lazzarino said. “We don’t want anything to go wrong or have to fix something.”
“History shows that we always make it through crises,” they said. “Hopefully that will happen again.”
And they trust their clients. “They have been loyal and they have moved with us every time we have moved,” they said.
“The restaurant and bar businesses are the hardest hit, but the entire real estate chain — we’re right in the middle of it,” said Mark Ritchie, owner of Ritchie Commercial.
“We’re trying to be fair and be good partners, but even asking for half the rent for May and June is a struggle. It’s terrifying for some of the mom-and-pop tenants. It’s hard when you’re not sure how many are going to be able to pay their rent.”
Ritchie has 310 tenants in San Jose, including high-profile restaurants Mezcal and Rookies. Mezcal is open and Rookies is temporarily closed.
“All our people at Ritchie Commercial are still working and getting paid,” he said.
If you want something positive, it’s Groundwerx. We had a mess in our doorway, they came right away with flying colors and cleaned it up. They are amazing.”
HEROES MARTIAL ARTS
“Weird times,” said Alan “Gumby” Marques, owner, in a March interview. “I’ve never seen anything like this and obviously don’t have a crystal ball. Our plan is to come out of this both in body and as a community stronger.”
“We’re bummed as anyone else about not being able to open,” he told his customers on March 13, three days before Governor Gavin Newsome imposed a shelter-in-place order for six Bay Area counties including Santa Clara County in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
In February, Heroes experienced a record number of leads for new customers, Marques said. “It pretty much screeched to a halt with coronavirus,” he added.
Heroes has asked those customers who can afford it to continue paying according to its monthly tuition-based system, with promises of private or group jiu jitsu lessons or a voucher for a free month later on.
“I am definitely thankful for my students and the support now, more than ever,” he said. “Hopefully that doesn’t just come out in times of crisis!”
Meanwhile, Heroes has online content aimed to keep minds and bodies sharp during the COVID-19 hiatus and plans to release more online content as the shelter-in-place order continues.
“You prepare for rainy days and plot for the sunny ones that are coming up,” he said. “If this stretches too long, we’re all going to be in for some tough times.
“Now is the time for education and thoughtful planning. We have to take care of each other and reinforce the things we should be doing anyway – washing your hands and avoiding contact when contagious. Like anything, we can get through this.”