Many of Santa Barbara County’s small-business owners say they are drowning in a sea of purple as the governor’s tightened COVID-19 restrictions portend a grim holiday shopping season — the time when most retailers traditionally make the money that sustains them the rest of the year.
In a random sampling of small-business owners in Orcutt, some said they are angry with Gov. Gavin Newsom and support an effort to recall him, with some saying they don’t trust the government’s statistics about cases and death rates, nor the effectiveness of some restrictions Newsom imposed.
Others said certain business sectors have not been affected, and even benefited, from societal changes brought about by the pandemic and the efforts to control it.
A few said the worst still lies ahead — next year when the unpaid rents and mortgages, failed businesses and bankruptcies come home to roost.
But almost universally, they said restaurants are being hurt the worst.
On Nov. 16, Newsom ordered most of the state’s counties to return to the most restrictive purple tier of his Blueprint for a Safer Economy — limiting retail stores to 25% of their capacity; pushing restaurants and wine-tasting rooms back outdoors; and requiring service businesses to modify their procedures.
Three days later, he imposed an overnight curfew as part of the state’s effort to curb a surge in new COVID-19 cases that had reached 10,000 per day.
“Everybody in the world is hurting,” said Alberto Licerio, wearing a face mask as he cut a customer’s hair in the Old Orcutt Barber Shop. “I think restaurants are hurting the most. Retail — most retail can survive on 50% [of customer capacity]. Twenty-five percent? I don’t know. I think a lot of businesses are going to fail.”
His customer, who declined to give his name, said not all businesses are hurting.
“I have heard of quite a few that are doing well,” he said, citing farmers in general, strawberry growers in particular and equipment sellers. “The construction guys are doing well. The electricians are backed up [with work]. But we may be living in a little bubble here on the Central Coast.
“I think the worst is yet to come,” he added, noting his wife works in the legal field and is seeing a lot of businesses filing for bankruptcy as well as evictions looming on the horizon when unpaid rents come due.
Across South Broadway Street, Old Town Garden Center manager Teresa Pico said the 25% capacity limit hasn’t hurt because “we never have a ton of people in at one time anyway,” and the advice for people who aren’t working to stay home has kind of helped business.
“People being confined at home are coming here to get a little peace of mind,” Pico said. “People just come out and walk through the Garden Center because it’s peaceful and it feels good.
“It’s given people the motivation to get their yards done,” she added about people staying home. “People get out and work in the yard to get a little sun, fresh air when they’re being so repressed.”
Like other business owners Pico is upset with the governor over restrictions he’s imposed, especially when he was caught violating his own rules by attending a dinner party with people from other households inside an upscale Napa-area restaurant.
“For him to tell us how to spend Thanksgiving in our own homes with our own families is appalling,” she said. “We’re smart enough as people to get information [about COVID-19] and protect ourselves.”
Also like other small-business owners, she questioned exactly how the curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I feel very fortunate we’ve been able to stay open,” Pico said. “A lot of businesses are laying off people and closing. Small restaurants, small businesses, barbershops, nail salons, hair salons — they’re really hurting.”
At Deasee’s Boutique on West Clark Avenue, owner Terri Deasee said her business is down because people just aren’t out shopping, likely doing their holiday buying online.
“I’ve got an online business as well [at deaseesboutique.com], so that helps,” Deasee said. “I’m just doing the best I can. I hope I can make it through the holidays. Spring is also one of our busiest times, and we had no spring [business].
“As a retailer, I’ve spent a lot of money to get merchandise in here,” she said. “I feel bad for the restaurants. Small businesses can’t survive another shutdown.
“People need to know they need to get out and do their holiday shopping with local businesses, to help them survive and pay their employees,” Deasee said.
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