While business has been good this year for 7 Mile House, a historic Brisbane restaurant and bar, owner Vanessa Garcia is taking things day by day.
With California fully reopened on Tuesday – meaning a looser mask and no social distancing requirements for most businesses and activities – some business owners will retain some of the pandemic’s safety measures.
Garcia said she didn’t know what to expect.
âI just don’t know what’s going to happen after June 15 because everyone’s going to open up. It’s going to be great or not because we obviously would have more competition,â Garcia said.
Restaurants and retail businesses were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Now that things are reopening, some places are struggling to hire workers.
For Garcia, after a difficult year of shutdowns, business has been even better than before COVID. Even without live music and with shorter hours, Garcia said, “we’re actually hitting our numbers every day.”
She has been able to retain her staff, even though she sees retailers hiring outside restaurants offering competitive salaries. Nonetheless, she hopes to use additional grants to provide a bonus for her staff.
âThere’s a lot of poaching going on right now. I’m just lucky my staff are really loyal to me,â Garcia said.
She’s in no rush to bring back their live music or start crowding the restaurant again. Instead of wrapping the tables so tightly that people had to walk sideways between them, Garcia plans to continue eating al fresco and keep the tables a comfortable distance from each other.
âWe really love that we have gone from a sports bar and concert hall to a family restaurant now,â Garcia said. “We are no longer considered a dive bar.”
Garcia said the pandemic gave them the opportunity to reshape their businesses, with support from local, state and federal programs. She is grateful for the Paycheck Protection Program loans and business grants from the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, also known as SAMCEDA, and San Mateo County.
The local community has also mobilized to support fundraising and donations of masks and vegetables grown on site.
âI was overwhelmed by the love we received because I didn’t know people cared so much about us,â Garcia said.
“The pandemic has started a fire under me”
For Goro Mitchell, an East Palo Alto native and business owner, the pandemic gave him the boost he needed to grow his business.
Mitchell runs Mitchell’s Environmental LLC, which provides environmental testing services such as mold testing, disinfection, flood cleaning, water restoration, and carpet cleaning.
The company is only one year old. While the pandemic has shut down some businesses, she has helped Mitchell offer more services beyond carpet cleaning, which was at the center of his business before the pandemic.
âThe pandemic started a fire under me. I really feel like it motivated me and got me out of complacency to really grow my business,â Mitchell said.
In March 2020, when the pandemic forced shelter-in-place orders across the Bay Area, Mitchell lost 70 to 80 percent of his business. But this loss gave him time to get the certifications needed to grow his business.
With the help of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a business resource center with branches in East Palo Alto and other parts of the Bay Area, Mitchell was able to find clients for his new venture.
Disinfection services were in high demand and within months business was back to normal.
His goal for the rest of the year is to expand even further so that he can hire employees. Currently, he works mostly alone, in his garage in East Palo Alto.
Mitchell is optimistic about reopening the state but concerned about the high cost of living. Between utility bills and the cost of office or warehouse space, expanding your business can get expensive.
âI’m just trying to save a lot of capital because I know there’s going to be a lot to spend,â Mitchell said. Support from PPP loans, grants to businesses in San Mateo County and Renaissance have been crucial.
He compared Renaissance and San Mateo County to true friends, those who came to his aid at a critical time.
âAnd it’s not just me. I have a daughter in Duke. I support her. And I have a 5 year old. So it’s not just a business as a concept. family. I support my family, “said Mitchell.
Ongoing resources available for local businesses
Maintaining a safe environment will be crucial as businesses reopen more fully, according to Tim Russell, program director for Renaissance Mid-Peninsula and South Bay.
Russell encouraged small businesses to take advantage of the free PPE available from SAMCEDA and San Mateo County.
Customers should feel that their safety is just as important as the services provided by the company, Russell said.
âSmall businesses just need to make sure they have all of their I and T points crossed in this new normal,â Russell said. He expects the reopening to start slowly and intensify as customers feel more comfortable going out.
Some companies have managed to pivot, but others are still struggling. Restaurants, retail stores and child care were particularly hard hit, Russell said.
“I think they (business owners) want to have good thoughts, they want to have good hopes, but the reality of their bills, the reality of the rent arrears, the reality of some things that have happened. accumulated during the pandemic, is still in their face, âhe said.
Renaissance continues to provide advice and grants to small businesses, particularly at the reopening of the state. And Renaissance plans to be there for businesses throughout their journey, not just in times of crisis.
Individual cities also have a role to play in supporting businesses, through âShop Localâ campaigns, connecting businesses to resources and expanding outdoor dining programs.
Simon Vuong, director of economic development for Redwood City, said that over the next few months, the city will work to create a more permanent outdoor dining program, which he says will be essential for survival and the success of some businesses.
Until now, alfresco dining is allowed until the end of the year in Redwood City.
âThey (business owners) probably want to go ahead and invest for the long term in a very attractive structure,â Vuong said. “But they don’t want to do this unless there’s some sort of certainty.”
To expand alfresco dining, the city will need to think about many political issues, Vuong said, such as the number of spaces allowed for each restaurant or the impact of the program on the city’s income, as outdoor structures could. replace parking spaces.
They also want to make the program fair, so that any business that wants to take advantage of it can do so.
Encouraging people to buy locally is another important part of helping businesses succeed.
SAMCEDA President and CEO Rosanne Foust said she noticed more people in local restaurants and businesses. But she said there needs to be more awareness because it’s easy for people to just shop online.
âOur city centers are key parts of our community and they have been hit the hardest,â said Foust. âI wish more people knew about it. Pay attention to your downtown area. Pay attention to your small businesses. Think about your disposable income. Think about the people in your community who might be injured. Reach out. “