Hair salons, restaurants, gift shops, bed-and-breakfasts, and fitness studios are among the businesses on the coast that operate on razor-thin margins. While some are finding ways to operate during the pandemic, many others, without any form of economic assistance so far, may be forced to permanently close their doors.
Scott Clark and Alexis Liu, who own Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay, are among those seeking government relief. But like millions of small business owners across the country, they’ve been left waiting. And now they — and many other businesses on the Coastside — will have to wait even longer. New reports say the multibillion-dollar Paycheck Protection Program, an emergency loan designed to assist small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency, has run out of funds in just 13 days. It is no longer accepting applications.
“We went to apply with our bank, Wells Fargo, but we’re still waiting for a response due to the number of applicants,” Liu said.
There may be more help on the way. On Tuesday, congressional leaders reportedly reached a deal on a new nearly $500 billion relief package that would go to struggling small businesses, hospitals and for coronavirus testing.
Meanwhile, San Mateo County is developing its own small business support program. Using funds from the San Mateo County Strong Fund, the county is working with San Mateo Credit Union to offer small business assistance grants to businesses with no more than 10 full-time equivalent employees and that make less than $2.5 million annually.
Any financial aid can’t come soon enough for struggling businesses on the coast.
When news broke that the state was issuing a shelter-in-place order, Clark and Liu said it was “scary.” Unsure of how to proceed, the pair made the decision to close the restaurant. About a week later, Clark decided to reopen the cafe but under new protocols. Orders and payment must be made over
the phone and food is delivered outside the restaurant to assure no contact with customers.
“It changed a lot of things based on the nature of the restaurant, but so far it’s been working out,” Liu said.
Clark and Liu had to temporarily lay off most of their few employees but are continuing to pay staff what they can. The pair also launched a GoFundMe online effort to assist in helping pay their employees and farmers that provide food for the restaurant.
They're not alone. Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau CEO Krystlyn Giedt said she doesn’t know of a single Coastside business to date that has received any funds yet. Giedt said optimism among local business owners is waning.
According to Geidt, the tone from local businesses has been “freaked out optimism,” but the next two weeks will be critical. If businesses don’t get any relief by the end of the month, she expects their tone to shift. Based on what she sees happening across the country, she expects about a quarter of local businesses not to survive the shelter-in-place.
Across the state, 92 percent of small business owners say they have been harmed by COVID-19, according to an industry survey released on Tuesday. The Small Business Majority poll of 167 California businesses found that 4 in 10 have adjusted the work schedules of their entire staff and that 44 percent have already closed due to ongoing restrictions or plan to do so in the next two months.
Geidt is working to put as much information as she can online, but said what businesses are looking for is money, something the Chamber cannot provide. Geidt said
she gets hundreds of emails per day asking about resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
FIT Studio owner Jodi Davis Miller is waiting for government assistance, too, and said it hasn’t been easy. Her current bank was not able to help her apply for a federal loan, so she had to turn to her mortgage lender for help.
Miller did everything she could think of to adapt her business to the shelter-in-place order. After seeing her last in-person client on March 16, she immediately got to work transforming her business, giving herself a crash course in online teaching. Within a week, she began offering individual and group fitness classes online and is now renting out equipment to her clients for at-home use.
But it hasn’t been nearly enough. Despite being quick to act, Miller said she’s lost three-quarters of her revenue. For now, she’s been able to cut costs, negotiate her rent with her landlord and ask for deferrals where possible, but she said her five-year lease won’t wait forever.
Miller said her mortgage lender seems to think some funding will come through, but she can’t be sure.
“The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people like me in the country all looking for the same help,” Miller said.
But Miller isn’t giving up. The pandemic has forced her to reinvent her business for good.
“I’m a fighter,” Miller said. “I’m going to fight until the end.”
Miller can take solace in the fact that she is hardly alone.
“We are going to try to help as many small businesses as we can, recognizing that the reality of the situation is that we won't be able to save everyone,” said Rosanne Foust, president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.