Unlike restaurants which have uniformly adopted outdoor dining and takeout, recovery for local retail businesses resembles a patchwork of adaptations. We spoke with representatives from three Coastside businesses who shared how they’ve adjusted to the new restrictions on shopping in the last few months. They also talked about bracing for an uncertain future.

Half Moon Bay Art Glass

Last year, the glass blowing company reached a milestone. It had taught more than 45,000 students in its 12 years in business. There were more than 1,000 students in November alone. 

The shop’s owner, Douglass Brown, said the rise in business came as big tech companies sought fun team-building activities for employees. 

“For many people, this is their first experience with hot glass,” he said. “What we’re providing to people is an opportunity that they can’t do at many other places.” 

But with most tech offices shuttered and employees expected to work from home until next year, business has plummeted more than 80 percent. Without the iconic Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival in October, at which he sells his own creations, Brown is reluctant to stock the shelves.

At its height, his business employed two people. Now it’s just him. He went from being open seven days a week to only two days a week. And without his normal classes, his monthly utility bill has dropped from an average of $4,000 a month to $1,000.

Despite the reduced operating costs, Brown expects that beginning in January he will have to go dark, at least for four months.

In the meantime, he’s making repairs to his portable glass blowing truck. Typically used as a temporary booth at fairs, he imagines that having a mobile studio will become a bigger part of how he conducts business.

Shortly after closing in March, he joined the first wave of businesses to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan that the federal government offered to small businesses as part of the CARES Act.

At that point, he had more than 30 years in the mortgage industry and looked closely into the repayment terms. As the rules evolved, he decided to accept the loan but draw sparingly from it. He’s sitting on most of the money.

Still, the loan gave him peace of mind. And with little of it to repay, he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to continue his business.

Brown has traveled a lot in the last 10 years. Across every culture that has seen his work, there is a universal fascination with fire and the process of glass blowing.

“People will come back,” he said. “We give people an incredibly unique experience and, because they’ve never experienced it, they rave about it.”

“Whether I have to do this in fairs or shows outside of having a physical location, I’m going to make it work.”

Paper Crane

Margaret Stow started her business 35 years ago with her husband, who had a passion for letterpress printing. Stow’s store, known for its handcrafted cards and other gift items, has become a way for local artists to sell their art. She said she’s working hard to keep the store running as it always had — with one exception.

To keep business afloat, Stow has turned digital. Her daughter-in-law helped set up online ordering on the company’s existing website. And the store’s Instagram account boasts new posts, one nearly every day.

Besides her daughter-in-law, staffing remains the same as before. Stow has one employee working the store when she’s not there. And the hours are the same as they were before shelter-in-place.

The biggest change has been the increase in online ordering, largely from Coastside locals.

“We’re really grateful to our customers who have been very kind in being concerned about how we’re doing and keeping us in mind when they need something,” she said.

With the holidays approaching, Stow will do as she always has done. She will stock the shelves with more boxed holiday cards, candles and ornaments.

Twice as Nice

The discount store’s philosophy has always been large volume, wide variety and low prices.

So owner Richard Traxler was grateful when the city and his landlord allowed him to open his garage to hold more items and a wider selection where inventory was previously restricted.

Managing his inventory has never been so challenging.

“We had cut down some of the stock, but we have to keep the store full,” he said. “Sometimes it gets difficult when no one is coming in.”

To minimize the financial fallout, Traxler said he had to lay off some of his employees.

“We couldn't make it with the number of employees we had,” he said. “But we seem to be functioning.”

Traxler remains as hands-on as ever. Coming into the store is imperative to planning how many new items he can bring in. But even acquiring new products has become difficult.

Trade shows have been canceled. Normally, he is religious about attending them. Instead, he’s had to rely on the relationships he’s formed directly with vendors in his 38 years in the business.

As far as Traxler’s seen, in-person retail shopping had already been on the decline in the last three years, as people increasingly turned to Amazon and other online retailers. But his low prices remain his biggest selling point and a lifeline for locals looking to save money.

At two of his stores, he doesn’t have to worry about another rent payment for another year. At his third store, he has another two years. He said he will do his best to stay open.

Throughout the pandemic, Traxler’s biggest concern has been the people: his employees and his customers. He tapped the federal government’s PPP loan to pay his employees, and hopes that he did everything correctly so that all expenses on wages will be forgiven. And if he could add another thing on his wishlist to the government it would be additional financial relief to the community.

“I think that the best thing is if they can help the people — our customers. The people are out of work. If they can help them, give them some money, they’ll come in,” he said. “Because they need things that are essential that we have really good prices on.”

ss blowing company reached a milestone. It had taught more than 45,000 students in its 12 years in business. There were more than 1,000 students in November alone.

The shop’s owner, Douglass Brown, said the rise in business came as big tech companies sought fun team-building activities for employees.

“For many people, this is their first experience with hot glass,” he said. “What we’re providing to people is an opportunity that they can’t do at many other places.”

But with most tech offices shuttered and employees expected to work from home until next year, business has plummeted more than 80 percent. Without the iconic Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival in October, at which he sells his own creations, Brown is reluctant to stock the shelves.

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