Essential local businesses are finding a way to stay open

0
171
dining room
Food service businesses responded to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 by reducing service to take out only and altering their dining rooms to send the message that dining in is not allowed. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Jeff Goldblume’s character in “Jurassic Park” made the phrase, “Life finds a way,” famous.

In many respects, the same can be said for local businesses – essential ones, at least – that are trying to “find a way” to stay open in an unstable local economy caused by containment efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close all nonessential businesses and his asking for a voluntary stay-at-home policy made the decision easy for many businesses.

sign
A sign in front of the Cookhouse Food Hall at Vail Headquarters alerts customers to the rule that the food they can sell is for takeout only. As of Sunday afternoon, only two of the four restaurants in the food hall planned to be open over the next week, if at all. Valley News/Jeff Pack photo

According to the governor’s orders, California’s 40 million residents should stay home indefinitely and venture outside only for essential jobs, errands and some exercise, warning that the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the state’s medical system.

California identified 16 business sectors that have the ability to stay open, including health care, emergency services, food and agriculture, transportation and communication. The list includes others such as wastewater treatment, cannabis dispensaries and even Uber and Lyft drivers.

Big box stores and restaurants are permitted to stay open if they offer takeout, delivery and curbside pickup options.

That’s exactly what local restaurants are trying to do, as many have pivoted to offer all those of those options to their customers. But even then, with fewer people venturing outside and fears of loss of income due to a loss of hours at work or job loss altogether, wallets have tightened.

parking lot
The Promenade Temecula parking lot is empty as the mall closes due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Valley News/Shane Gibson

Newsom reported that unemployment claims continue to climb with 40,000 claims Sunday, March 14, and 70,000 as of Monday and 80,000 as of Tuesday. Claims for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were 125,000, 135,000 and 114,000 respectively.

According to a report from The Associated Press, U.S., state unemployment trust funds generally are in better financial shape than they were before the last recession.

However, 21 states began the year with less than the amount recommended to remain solvent in an average recession, including California.

The Senate gave final approval Wednesday, March 18, to a separate bill that would inject $1 billion into state unemployment insurance programs.

On Monday, March 23, a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package was being debated in the Senate which would include sending checks to Americans within a matter of weeks to help them pay for groceries, bills, mortgages and rent.

Also in an announcement Monday, the Federal Reserve said it will establish three new lending facilities that will provide up to $300 billion by purchasing corporate bonds, a wider range of municipal bonds and securities tied to such debt as auto and real estate loans. It will also buy an unlimited amount of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to try to hold down borrowing rates and ensure those markets function smoothly.

Old Town Temecula
Traffic is light on Old Town Front Street March 22, as citizens are urged to stay at home due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

All in all, it’s a mess. And it doesn’t look to be clearing up anytime soon.

When asked about the atmosphere with local businesses, Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Patrick Ellis wasn’t exactly sure where to start.

“It depends, it’s all over the place,” he said. “I think that right now it’s mostly just fear of the unknown. Everyone knows that things have changed and everyone’s got to weather this. I think because no one has any true grip on how long this is going to last, that’s what scares people right now.

“Most of us in the business world we plan and we budget and we are able to get through dips in the market and different things,” he said. “Because we can foresee and we can plan for certain things – right now, what’s going on? There’s no planning for it. Every 30 minutes something changes. You have to adjust to it at that point,” Ellis said.

Kimberly Davidson, economic director of Wildomar, agreed that the unknown playing surface is what’s troubling to businesses.

“The biggest challenge right now is that as soon as our businesses start to adapt to a new order, another order is issued that cancels the previous order,” Davidson said. “If we can just get to a point, whatever point that is, where we have a standing order that lasts for at least a few days, I think that the businesses will find a way to adapt. Perhaps we have finally reached that point now.”

Both Ellis and Davidson are helping small businesses apply for low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The loans are available to small businesses in Riverside and 34 other California counties that are economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The interest rate on the disaster loans is 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for private nonprofit organizations. SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million are designed to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred, according to SBA administrator Jovita Carranza.

“These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact,” Carranza said. “Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing,’”

Applicants should visit https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela, call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance.

Davidson thinks there is light at the end of the tunnel and that people are adapting and learning to thrive as each day goes by.

“I do know of a small handful of people that are already launching home-based businesses,” Davidson said. “I think the human spirit is strong, and we will figure out how to overcome this. As for the ones that can’t and don’t: hopefully, they will benefit from the packages that the federal and state governments are putting together. I know the local city governments are going to be looking at ways they can help as well.”

Ellis said he continually finds the bright moments in an otherwise difficult time.

“We’ve got businesses that are doing really good right now – grocery and warehouse stores and Walmarts and Targets – they’re killing it right now,” Ellis said. “They’re all hiring right now like crazy because they need help so desperately. We’re helping to try and connect them with the workforce that they need.

“They’re doing cool things like purchasing food for all their employees because they’re so impacted with trying to get caught up with the work,” he said. They’re buying from local restaurants and fast food places for their employees. One, it’s helping them with their employees, and two, it’s also helping a small local business as well. So I think there’s a lot of, you know, cool little stories like that that will start to surface over the next couple of weeks too.”

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.