‘I know their pain’: Study confirms toll of shutdowns in San Jose
Zamora's Omelette House was among the thousands of businesses forced to close in San Jose. Photo courtesy Yelp.

    John Zamora, owner of Zamora’s Omelette House, served the last meal at his Alum Rock Avenue restaurant at the end of August, after almost 10 years in operation.

    “We were trying to hold on,” Zamora said. “We felt we had to give it a try.”

    Zamora’s experience illustrates the results of a recent economic report from Yelp, which shows San Jose as having one of the highest rates of business closures around the country since March, or when California and other states placed restrictions on many businesses in an effort to slow the spread for coronavirus. 

    Yelp said that as of Aug. 31, in San Jose, 20.2 out of every 1,000 businesses have closed since March, with 8.9 businesses per 1,000 closing permanently, and 11.3 per 1,000 closing temporarily.

    Those figures place San Jose at No. 5 among metro regions across the United States for rate of business closures since the start of the pandemic.

    Honolulu, which saw its leading industry, tourism, nearly evaporate during spring and summer, led the nation with 26.3 permanent and temporary closures per 1,000 businesses.

    San Francisco claimed second place, with 21.9 closures for every 1,000 businesses, while Las Vegas was No. 3, with 21.1 closures and San Diego came in fourth place, with 21 permanent and temporary closures.

    Yelp said it pulls its data from its own businesses listings, and has been tracking businesses that are open and closed on a daily basis since March 1. According to Yelp, 163,735 U.S. businesses listed on its platform have closed either temporarily or permanently from March to August. 

    The potential for a business closing permanently or temporarily depends to a great degree on the type of business. For example, providers of home and professional services, such as lawyers, architects, accountants and real estate agents, have shown particular resiliency.

    But the restaurant industry, even when accounting for locations offering takeout service, has been hit particularly hard. According to Yelp, 32,109 restaurants in its listings have closed as of Aug. 31, with almost 20,000 of those closings being permanent. 

    Other industries seeing large numbers of pandemic-related closures include bars, retail and shopping outlets, and beauty and fitness. Minority-owned small businesses have been hit particularly hard.

    Prior to the pandemic, Zamora said his restaurant would serve about 80 people a day during the week, and was busy from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the weekends.

    Zamora said he closed the Omelette House for “a few weeks” beginning in March when the shelter-in-place orders first went into effect. After a while, he and his wife opened for take-out service, and offered some outdoor dining in a small patio area behind the restaurant.

    However, Zamora said as the pandemic went on, the situation became untenable. His restaurant, with 10 part-time employees, went from doing about $40,000 a month in sales to just $15,000 for all of April, May and June.

    “We knew back in May that if this went on past July, and we couldn’t have indoor dining with at least 50% (capacity), that we weren’t going to make it,” Zamora said. 

    There is a ray of hope, however. In September, San Jose and Santa Clara County moved from purple to red on the state’s color-coded system for reopening of businesses and other activities. On Oct. 5, county officials said it’s possible all businesses, including restaurants and churches, could reopen at up to 25% capacity if the county moves into the state’s orange tier, with the earliest date for that move being Oct. 14.

    Business groups, such as The Silicon Valley Organization, for weeks urged county leaders to allow indoor dining and worshipping at 25% capacity. An advocacy letter drafted by the coalition drew more than 1,200 signatures.

    “Our coalition wants to be part of the solution in finding a responsible balance between life with COVID-19 and meaningful, authentic gatherings and business survival,” said Matthew Mahood, president and CEO of the SVO.

    But for Zamora, such a move is too little, too late, as it might be for other locals businesses that are just hanging on.

    “I get emotional. I get worked up about it,” Zamora said. “There are people holding out because they are so far in they have nowhere else to go. I know what they are feeling. I know their pain.”

    Contact Rex Crum at [email protected] or on Twitter @rexcrum

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