RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Business operators and independent contractors in the Riverside area said today that they’re under intense and growing financial pain resulting from the novel coronavirus emergency orders, with anxieties increasing over what the future holds if conditions don’t improve.
“This will throw me into bankruptcy if it goes on beyond a month,” said hairdresser Janice Clemmer, who contracts her services to the Riverside Hair Company on Brockton Avenue.
“Like a lot of people, I’m surviving month to month,” she said. “I understand the virus is bad. I get it. But you can’t keep businesses shut down for months. There’s no way. We can start taking precautions moving forward. But right now, there’s no money coming in.”
Clemmer said the owner of the salon closed Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order stating all “non-essential” businesses should shift to telecommuting operations and residents should stay at home as much as possible to limit COVID-19 exposure risks.
“This whole thing has been a domino effect,” she told City News Service. “My partner is out of work for the next month because all the venues he was supposed to play have shut down.”
Clemmer’s partner, Chris Hilliard, is a professional guitarist and has played for decades in an oldies cover band that travels the country.
We don’t know when or how we’re going to be able to pay our bills with no money coming in,” she said. “We can borrow money, I guess. But that’s more debt. Even if the credit card companies do deferred payments, there’s still a bill that will have to be paid a few months down the road.”
Clemmer held out hope that the $2 trillion stimulus package on which the U.S. Senate plans to vote tonight would provide some relief. The plan includes a plethora of tax rebates and accelerated writeoffs for businesses, as well as one-time $1,200 checks for citizens earning up to a maximum $75,000 annually.
“We don’t want to spend any money or plan anything because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Clemmer said.
Zak Chaparian, owner of Downtown Cleaners & Shoe Repair in Riverside, told CNS that his business has declined 90% over the last two weeks. The shop owner, who has been in business for nearly 20 years, had nothing to which to compare his recent losses.
“I’m just trying to deal with it,” he said. “I may have to shut the doors. I don’t know. I’m seeing maybe one, two customers at the most a day. If it gets worse, I won’t even have those.”
According to Chaparian, he relies on Riverside municipal employees and Riverside County employees for close to half his bottom line. Most government facilities downtown are operating with skeleton crews, and no general public access is permitted, except at the Riverside Hall of Justice, which is open four hours a day, and the U.S. Post Office, which is operating without interruption.
Chaparian said even most regulars who are not associated with government are not around “because their kids aren’t in school, so they’re home taking care of the kids.”
County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, under a Board of Supervisors-authorized local emergency declaration, issued a directive on March 17 closing all public and private schools until at least April 30.
“This whole thing is ridiculous. I blame the media putting fear into people’s minds,” Chaparian said. “It’s the (expletive) flu. Yeah, it’s bad. But look how many people died from the flu in this country last year –thousands. People need to get back on with their lives.”
Chaparian estimated that at the current pace, his business may be shuttered within two months.
NextGen Flight Academy owner Brandon Martini told CNS that he could have kept his operations at Riverside and Redlands airports going under an exemption in the governor’s proclamation, but decided last Friday to voluntarily shut down for a minimum 30 days as a precaution. He was joined by the operators of EFI Flight School at French Valley Airport.
“At first, I felt like there was a complete idiot reaction to coronavirus and what they’re calling a pandemic, but then I started looking at the numbers,” Martini said. “They’re sending hospital ships and building field hospitals for sick people, and there aren’t enough oxygen ventilators. That convinced me this is a bigger problem than most people think.”
According to Martini, he did not believe it was worth risking continued daily flight operations, considering that there would be “instructors who are encountering up to six trainees a day, working in a very confined cockpit space, only inches apart.”
Martini said so-called social distancing was not possible, and he worried about the potential liability stemming from a COVID-19 illness originating from his business.
“For the safety of our patrons and flight instructors, I decided to close down,” he said. “I had to let go of everyone except one mechanic. But I’m continuing to pay for everyone’s health insurance. This is not a high- profit business, so I can only afford to do so much.”
The estimated revenue loss from just the temporary closure will be anywhere from $50,000 to $120,000, Martini said, adding that his accounts receivable related to planes repaired at the maintenance facility he operates are close to $60,000, and customers who owe money “are not returning phone calls.”
“I structured my business so there’s not a lot of debt,” he said. “I can survive until July. There’s no nuclear option yet. If I sell an airplane, we can make it another year. We’re taking this day by day for now.”