With massive layoffs, a plunge in business and uncertainty ahead, most business owners in the Mission District said that even with the city’s moratorium on evictions for small- and medium-sized businesses announced on Tuesday, they expect a very difficult recovery.
Christian Albertson, the owner of Monk’s Kettle on 16th Street, wrote in an email that on Monday, “we had the unfortunate task laying off almost the entire staff until we are able to do in-store sales again.”
His best outcome was one echoed by others: to weather the pandemic crisis and emerge on the other side to hire everyone back.
The city has taken a number of steps to offset the challenges businesses and employees face. On Tuesday, Mayor London Breed announced a 30-day moratorium on evictions of small- and medium-sized businesses. Earlier she ordered the same for residents. The moratoriums can be extended for another 30 days, according to the orders. The city also offered $10 million “to provide an additional five days of paid sick leave to private-sector workers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The White House, meanwhile, is asking Congress to approve a $1 trillion bailout package. It would include $300 billion in payroll assistance for small businesses and $500 billion for two waves of direct payments to American taxpayers. Additionally, it would provide $50 billion in secured loans to the airline industry and $150 billion in loans to other hard-hit sectors of the economy.
While welcome, it’s not yet clear whether those measures will go far enough in blunting the impact of widespread layoffs and the instantaneous curtailment of revenue that most businesses are suffering with the Bay Area’s “shelter in place” order.
“It’s devastating to all of the businesses here,” said Tony Cervone, the chef of Souvla’s five locations in the city. All of his locations will be closed until at least early April, he said, standing in front of the Valencia Street location Wednesday morning.
“There’s going to be a huge recession,” even after the coronavirus is under control, he said, adding that the city should be talking about a three-month moratorium on evictions for businesses and residents.
The restaurants that remain open are coming up with a multitude of strategies, most of which revolve around cutting employees to the bone and encouraging diners to order takeout.
Monk’s Kettle, for example, is offering takeout from a full menu as well as its entire bottled and canned beer, wine and cider list from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. “We have adjusted all the prices downward to the retail price range,” Albertson wrote, explaining that Monk’s Kettle is offering discounted food if you order ahead or at the pick-up window.
Matt Conglan, the culinary director at Mixt on 20th and Valencia Street said the business was relying on its neighborhood restaurants to pull them through. Those in the financial district or downtown have closed, and on Wednesday morning he was moving produce over to the Mission restaurant.
“We’re having a pretty decent demand in our neighborhood stores,” he said. He urged diners to order online — pickup takes seconds and there are always food delivery services. But they too are delivering in the neighborhood, he said.
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Some businesses do not have the luxury of offering takeout or delivery. “Even though I think of mini golf as ‘essential,’ said Urban Putt owner Steve Fox, “it doesn’t qualify.”
Urban Putt completely closed on Sunday, and Fox said he doesn’t know when it will reopen. The indoor miniature golf course at 22nd and South Van Ness has some 45 employees. “We basically laid off everyone,” Fox said, except for a few managers who will wind down operations over the next two weeks. The Urban Putt in Denver, with around 50 employees, had to do the same.
“Restaurants and mini-golf courses and bars are cash flow businesses — with no cash coming in, there’s no cash coming out,” Fox said. “It’s absolutely brutal.”
“As you’d imagine,” he added, “I’m not sleeping.”
Although a food establishment, Mission Picnic on Valencia Street has completely shut down, and it distributed much of its unused food to its 11 employees, said Josh Hamilton, the shop’s manager. As of Wednesday afternoon, those employees still had their jobs, he said, but it was unclear how long that would be the case.
“We have no money to pay them,” Hamilton said.
The sandwich shop, which reported a 90 percent drop in revenue since the beginning of the crisis, is exploring some kind of “compensation plan” for employees, Hamilton said. But it also may lay them off, so they could collect unemployment.
“We saw such a drop in business that didn’t justify operating costs,” Hamilton said. “We had to make a ruthless decision and shut down.”
The Crepe House on Valencia Street, while still offering pickup and deliveries for the time being, announced Tuesday that the pandemic was the “last nail in the coffin” for its business and it will shutter at the end of the month.
The Dolores Park Cafe at the corner of 18th and Dolores Streets said they too were open for takeout but not many people had been coming in. Usually, Gabriela Fausto is managing four other employees. On Wednesday morning it was Fausto and one employee.
Tartine Bakery continues to sell out of the bread that is baked on-site at 18th and Guerrero and comes out around 3:30 p.m, according to Carlos who was working the register on Wednesday morning. Pastries too were doing a solid business, he said. “We’re trying to figure this out,” he said. One thing is for certain: there are no more long lines at Tartine.
At Bistro SF Grill at 1305 Castro St, the co-owner Hasim Zecic said they are offering at-cost meals at $5.50 to their customers and to keep their kitchen staff of six employed. On Tuesday, 118 people picked up the meal and today they have enough for 260 customers.
It was an eerie sight on Wednesday afternoon, as some storefronts — including Stonemill Matcha, Locanda, and Souvla — were boarding up their windows. Locanda owner Annie Stoll told SFGate that Locanda was most likely closed for good. LoriLynne Rice, the floor manager at Stonemill Matcha, told Mission Local that the matcha spot boarded up its window “so when we come back it’s in the same condition.” She would not comment on whether employees have been laid off.
One of the few busy owners on Wednesday was Roger Wong, the owner of Santora Supply at 825 Valencia St., which sells janitorial equipment. Carlos Ortega, a construction worker for Cahill, was there to pick up bleach and other cleaning supplies.
Wong said they had been able to keep everything in stock — everything except hand sanitizer.
But most businesses were not that lucky. “We’re just trying to figure out how to survive,” said Albertson of Monk’s Kettle, “and get to the other side of this.”
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