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By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

Fallbrook businesses preparing for the unknown

 

Last updated 3/19/2020 at 8:27pm

Rachel Jones, bartender at Harry's Sports Bar & Grill, watches reports about the COVID-19 virus as the news of the virus replaces televised sporting events, Monday, March 16. Village News/Shane Gibson photo

It might be the unknown that is weighing most on the hearts and minds of many in the business community as they attempt to wade into uncharted territory pertaining to dealing with the effects COVID-19 will have on commerce.

On Friday, March 13, all the schools in Southern California were closed for varying amounts of time, cities and organizations began to release news of canceled public events, activities and even offices.

Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Californians to postpone all nonessential gatherings through the end of March due to the coronavirus and even social gatherings where people can't remain at least 6 feet apart.

He doubled down on the guidelines, asking older members of the public to shelter in place and asking wineries and bars to shut their doors.

By Monday, March 16, the federal government was suggesting that people should not gather in groups of more than 10 people.

So what do those suggestions and guidelines mean to small businesses like restaurants, retailers and hospitality companies?

It seems to leave them in unknown territory. If they choose to stay open and adhere to all the guidelines for providing a safe atmosphere to customers and clients, they may be faced with a slow market, since a lot of the public has been asked to stay home and avoid crowds.

If they choose to close their doors during the time period suggested by regional, state and federal governments, how can they afford to pay employees or even their rent?

"We are all feeling it downtown. Everyone down here is feeling it, all the merchants and restaurants," Reyna Beckler, owner of Sage Yoga Studios, said. "It's not just me, and I'm hoping I can come out of this and the students will come back. But I know some people may never recover some businesses. Nobody knows, it could be two weeks, and someone said this morning it could be up to eight weeks. And I'm thinking, 'Yeah, this is not good.'

"I have a mortgage here in Fallbrook, and I have rent in Bonsall also. I'm hoping there's some sort of relief that's offered or something," Beckler said.

It has all happened so fast. She said one of her teachers canceled her classes Friday and suggested that she close the shop.

"I was thinking I would stay open," Beckler said. "I was thinking, 'Oh, there's a frenzy and everyone is fearful and we'll be fine. And then when the schools closed, I was like, 'OK, this is getting a little more serious.' I was just taking it by the hour as more information kept coming through, and I was being bombarded with emails and phone calls.

"Yesterday I had a meeting and another teacher said, 'Yeah, I can't teach.' By the end of yesterday, I had three teachers, and I woke up this morning and then I had a fourth teacher that canceled," she said.

Then there are the canceled memberships, which is how she pays her bills and her teachers.

"Every time I pick up the phone or open up email there is a student who has canceled their membership," Beckler said Monday. "By the end of today, I'm going to close our studio and we're looking at going virtual with our classes and having teachers come in and we'll just film them teaching their class. Hopefully our yoga students will keep their membership and take online classes. But it's something new that we've never done before, so who knows?

"I'm panicked because all these cancellations of memberships, and I don't know if we're going to get through all this," Beckler said.

Considering the healing effects of yoga, people could use the practice to help them deal with a difficult time.

"I have a lot of members that want us to stay open," Beckler said. "They say they will come, but you know ... Then on the other side I'm being almost criticized, and people are telling me that I'm irresponsible and I'm putting everyone's health in danger by not closing.

"So, it's like what do I do?" she asked. "Closing is going to be detrimental to our business. I need to put out a message today that I'm closing the studio and I'll see what comes back.

"Friday, I sent out an email to all our members saying we're staying open," she said. "And right away I had three replies saying, 'OK, please cancel my membership; I don't feel comfortable coming to class.' Over the weekend, our classes were well attended. I had yoga students come from other studios, and they said, 'Oh, you're the only other studio that's still open.' So they came here, and I have to say, 'Yeah, and I have to close.'"

Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce CEO Lila MacDonald was the only person in the office when Village News called Monday morning.

"We're definitely going to be open," she said. "We're probably going to have to have modified hours. We will be talking with our board and seeing what they're going to ask us to do. But we all can work remotely; we did during the fires."

MacDonald wants to limit the staff in the office, but intended to be around the office as much as possible to do essential duties and to be there for the business community. The chamber recently had to cancel the Avocado Festival planned for April, but the chamber is working to set up a virtual festival for vendors who had committed to the event.

"I want to remain here as long as possible to help out those in need or help people think outside the box, right?" MacDonald said. "Like that virtual Avocado Festival because we obviously can't have this one. Or help people with SBA loans or just get accurate information out there we're not having a panic."

MacDonald said she typically spends all of her paycheck in Fallbrook and urges others to do the same.

"Personally, I'm trying to eat everywhere I can to infuse as much money as I can into the economy before they mandate closing things up," she said. "Everybody's nervous of course, because they're having to make some hard decisions. If you're the employer that affects the employees, especially if they're hourly. If they're not working, they are not getting a paycheck.

"The service industry right now, whether you're cleaning carpets, serving food or doing hair, there's a really small margin there in the service industry."

MacDonald said that, so far, none of the guidelines are mandatory and she is advising business owners the best she can.

"I'm telling people to do the same thing I'm doing," she said. "All these businesses are already practicing good hygiene, taking care by wiping down everything, they are in overdrive at this point. Restaurants are offering curbside service. If you don't want to go in, order food from your favorite restaurant and they'll walk it out to you. That's what gift places are doing, too. If you need a gift basket or you need something that they have, they're willing to walk it out to you curbside.

"Try to infuse as much as you can into the economy right now. Holding on for two weeks is a lot different from holding on for a month," MacDonald said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.

 

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