Businesses adapt to new norms
By Polina Runova
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought change in routine to everyone, and small businesses in particular are working to adjust. For some, this means requiring masks and shortening menus, while for others it means shutting down entirely. The pandemic is causing many to balance finances and safety in order to stay afloat.
June Lake is a small village in Mono County with a population of less than 700 people. The closest city is Reno, Nevada, a three hour drive from June Lake. Because of the wide open mountain area, and the relative isolation from big cities, the quarantine does not appear as severe in this area. People are still able to go for walks, relax on the beaches of the lakes, and attend to their day-to-day chores. However, none of this is done with the same ease as before: effects of the pandemic are felt even in this village, with many businesses closed and locals practicing social distancing.
Maribeth Kramer is a co-owner of The Lift, a coffee shop in June Lake. She explains that there are two reasons behind the decision to remain open. “Mainly we want to be here to support the town,” Ms. Kramer said. “It’s a small community, and there’s not a whole lot here to offer.” The town of June Lake only has a handful of eateries, many of which have closed already.
The second reason to remain open is “just to not fall behind,” Ms. Kramer said. “As fast as things change, we want to be able to change with them.” She explained that adapting to newer and newer circumstances could prove to be an easier transition than “just trying to quit completely and come back as something totally new.”
Already, the coffee shop has made many adjustments. “We’ve shortened our menu a lot, trying to simplify things.” Ms. Kramer said. She and her co-worker are also experimenting with pre – orders, and shorter hours. They’re also considering changing the basics of the coffee shop. “Before we did a breakfast and a dinner menu,” Ms. Kramer said, “and we are now seeing there’s more of a demand for grab-and-go lunches around town.” By remaining open, The Lift is keeping up with the times and will be ready for whatever they find on the other side of the pandemic.
Not all businesses remained open, however. As Ms. Kramer said, “Everyone’s got their own reasons for the way they want to do something.” Different businesses are basing their decisions on different factors, leading some to close.
Don Morton has his “fingers in a lot of pies,” most of which ended up closed due to the pandemic. He explains that the pandemic is causing a lot of unease among small communities, such as the one found in June Lake. A factor of this comes from the amount of people coming to quarantine in the area. “The majority of the people that are guests that come here are from Southern California and the five counties with the highest rate of incidents and positives,” Mr. Morton said.
The main source of income for Mr. Morton is June Lake Accommodations, a vacation home rental agency. This is more than just a business, however. “The staff’s been together since we started the business eight years ago. They’re all family.” Because of the close-knit community, an emotional emphasis is placed on personal wellbeing. Closing the business may be safer in terms of health, even if it’s less safe in terms of finances.
In this case, however, the decision was made for the employees of June Lake Accommodations. Because of the quarantine, “June Lake Accommodations, about the 12th of March, was shut down,” Mr. Morton said. “We’re not allowed to do anything. All our costs kept going, but we were not allowed to make income.”
Many businesses have been similarly affected, leading the government to try and financially support those that were shut down. “When this started, we had zero debt, which was a good thing,” Mr. Morton recalled. “I can’t say that now. We have debt now.” To provide assistance, the government started a program that allows businesses such as June Lake Accommodations to receive loans.
“We got this PPP, and it pays for the wages, our staff salary for two months,” Mr. Morton said, referring to the Payroll Protection Program. It is a loan that encourages companies to keep their employees on the payroll. It’s not enough to cover everything, but hopefully it will help the business pull through.
Luis Curiel has been the owner of the June Lake General Store for almost six years now. As it is considered essential, the business is remaining open. “Since the COVID-19 started, the business slowed down a lot,” Mr. Curiel said. Although the general store has already experienced several changes, he is more worried about the summer months to come. “June, July, August, September – is when we get very busy because all the tourists come down. It’s when we really make money,” Mr. Curiel explained.This year, those months of income might not happen.
Mr. Curiel also asked for government help. “I applied for CBA long ago,” Mr. Curiel said, “but I didn’t get anything and I haven’t heard from them.” Whether or not he ends up receiving the loan, Mr. Curiel is expecting to remain open one way or another. “I don’t think I’m going to shut this down,” Mr. Curiel said. He added that he might have to lay off employees or shorten hours in order to keep up, however.
Ms. Kramer also discovered some troubles with the government loans. “We applied early thinking that was a good thing,” she said. “And then weeks later, they said, someone hacked into the system and everyone who applied early, all of those applications were voided.” Eventually however, “we did get one of the loans, the PPP.” Ms. Kramer and her co-owner are planning to use the money as a salary for an employee, as soon as they can afford to bring one back to the coffee shop.
Applying for a loan is half the trouble, however. Ms. Kramer explains that the government is inconsistent with the rules it set on how to spend the loans. “They keep coming out with new sets of rules on how to spend the money to make it forgivable,” Ms. Kramer said. People who received loans in the early stages of the pandemic might have “already spent half the money and now maybe some of it is in the wrong place,” Ms Kramer explained. She added that if the money is considered to be spent incorrectly, “then you’re pretty much in debt that money back to the government.”
It is possible that local businesses will start reopening June 1. Although that would be a boon financially, the issue of health surfaces once again. “I’m on the fence here,” Mr. Morton said. “I want it to open. But at the same time, I have my family. And I’d rather they all stay well and none of them die than making a few grand.”
The businesses that remained open will continue making adjustments as circumstances change. “It is a whole different way of operating and taking some getting used to,” Ms. Kramer said. At the same time, “It’s kind of like an opportunity for us to play with our business and make a new model and see what works, what doesn’t,” she added. Ms. Kramer is not expecting the business to return to what it was previously anytime soon. Even when the pandemic ends, Ms. Kramer thinks that “certain things will stick for sure.”
“The hardest part is the uncertainty,” Mr. Morton said. Nevertheless, he expects his businesses, and others as well, to keep adapting. No one is certain what is going to happen in a month, a week, or even tomorrow.
“We’re gonna continue to change with the whole COVID-19,” Ms. Kramer said. She also feels that the future is uncertain on a day to day basis. “Something comes up new all the time,” Ms. Kramer said.
Featured Image (at the top of this post): The Lift is now only serving to-go orders. PHOTO CREDIT: Polina Runova