Santa Clara County businesses brace for COVID once again
The Breakfast Club at Midtown isn’t as busy as it was pre-pandemic, but manager Alan Medina thinks it would survive another shutdown. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

After almost two years of struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses may not be able to survive another hit caused by the omicron variant. 

To help small businesses endure, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $20 million in federal pandemic relief grants on Tuesday. The details are still being worked out.

Join Us Beauty at 1405 W. San Carlos St. in San Jose sells wigs, hair extensions and beauty products—and could use a lifeline. The shop has seen its income slashed in half since reopening due to product shortages and a lack of customers. People who used to buy hair extensions every two months now shop every six months, said owner Kyu Lee. 

The family-owned business not only lost customers, but owes significant back rent. Early in the pandemic, it was shut down for six months while debt accumulated.

Lee said while the owner of his uncle’s sandwich shop in San Francisco forgave his back rent and is only requiring him to pay half this year, Lee’s landlord isn’t as lenient. Lee has been at the same location for close to 13 years. If he is forced to close again, it might be for good. 

Join Us Beauty not only lost customers and income during the pandemic, but owes significant back rent. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

The nearby nail salon and Italian Brothers Bakery on West San Carlos Street both closed during the pandemic. The bakery did well, but left when the landlord wouldn’t give them a break on rent, Lee said.

“If there’s a shutdown for two to three months or longer we’re going to have to pack up and go somewhere else,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “We don’t want to add another $30,000 to $40,000 in back rent. It’s a little shop, but the rent is not cheap.”

The store’s rent is $5,500 per month for about 900 square feet. Lee took out a Small Business Association loan and has insurance to pay, he said.

The shop owner is exhausted from COVID mandates and having to wear a mask, but he hasn’t let down his guard because he has elderly parents, a baby and young daughter at home. His parents used to assist him in the shop, but with the potential to catch COVID and a dwindling customer base, they rarely come in now.  

“I’m tired of it,” he said. “Every time we get close (to normal), we have to take a step back. Hopefully the small business will survive, and things will get better. We just want our normal lives back.”

Small businesses share struggles

Pure Tea Bar, at 6195 Santa Teresa Blvd. in San Jose, lost all its employees at the start of the pandemic. Now the tea bar operates with 60% of staff. The shop has 30-35% less income compared to pre-pandemic revenue. To survive, the business cut hours and pivoted to pick-up orders. 

Like Lee, Truc worries about the omicron variant affecting business, as well as his health. He said customers are already staying away.

Pure Tea Bar lost all its employees at the start of the pandemic and is now operating with 60% of its staff. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

The Breakfast Club at Midtown, located at 1432 W. San Carlos St., has fared better. The eatery isn’t as busy as it was pre-pandemic, said manager Alan Medina, but he thinks it would survive another shutdown. Even though it lost some staff and income, Medina said the business adapted quickly to new regulations.

“During COVID, the community came together to help us out,” Medina told San José Spotlight. “We have a great loyal following. I think the same loyal following would be ready to tackle the next wave.”

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said this week one of the challenges of the pandemic is uncertainty—and not knowing how the new variant will affect Santa Clara County.

“We’re still in uncertain times,” Cody said. “Just when we think that we’ve got things quieted down, there’s another challenge around the corner.”

The omicron variant, first discovered two weeks ago in Africa, is now documented in more than 50 countries and 18 states, Cody said, including California. The first case in the United States was confirmed in San Francisco, according to the California and San Francisco departments of public health. 

As of Dec. 8, there have been 153,112 positive COVID-19 infections in Santa Clara County with an average of 195 new cases in the past seven days. There have been 1,918 deaths since the start of the pandemic. More than 90% of residents age 12+, more than 84% of residents ages 5+ are fully vaccinated and 478,922 residents have received booster shots.

According to the county, the local COVID case count has risen in recent weeks.

“It will just be a matter of time before we detect (omicron) here in Santa Clara County,” Cody said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

What Santa Clara County residents say about the COVID-19 pandemic

San José Spotlight asked residents for their thoughts on the pandemic and new variants.

“We need to get on with our lives. I’m so done with it,” said Jerry Stroud, adding COVID should be treated like the flu.

Dave (last name withheld by request) said the biggest problem with the pandemic is inconsistency, including how far to socially distance.

“How can you have a predictable life when no one is giving you the same regulations?” he said.

Jonathan Moreno said he sees a lot of big businesses getting bailed out. He said it’s sad barber shops and other mom-and-pop businesses are disinfecting constantly, but they’re the ones getting shut down. Moreno said he’s tired of the pandemic lasting so long. Masking has been his only lifestyle change.

John Choi isn’t too concerned about COVID. Although he initially missed going into the office, he’s adjusted to working from home, he said.

Olivia Park said she’s extra careful about wearing a mask, especially outside in a crowd because her mother has a medical condition. She said while getting a vaccine is a personal choice, people should be mindful of others.

Mari Beal said until every individual makes a concerted effort to protect not just themselves and their own families, but everyone in the community–particularly those at higher risk—the pandemic is going to be long and ongoing.

“Get on board,” she said.

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