CARLSBAD — Business is slowly starting to return and small business owners are thrilled.
Tommy Gomez and his wife, Stephanie, opened their clothing store Ooh La La on May 21, one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a number of counties, including San Diego, could re-open restaurants and retail stores after state and county health orders closed non-essential businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gomez said he expected at least a six-month closure, but also thought he may not re-open until 2021. He was thrilled with the news and also the communication between the city of Carlsbad, Carlsbad Village Association and the merchants.
“I never would have imagined something like could have happened,” Gomez said. “It’s been tough, but I think we got a great city mayor. I think the city of Carlsbad has done an amazing job and always kept in touch with us. For that, I’m really thankful.”
As a high-end women’s boutique, Gomez said his store will follow the guidelines, but mostly he was happy for the restaurants, which drives much of the traffic to Carlsbad Village. In turn, those retail businesses feed off of those shoppers.
But since the pandemic hit, uncertainty has gripped most business owners. The Gomez’s did not file for any federal assistance, but many others did.
Regardless, Gomez sang the praises of Christine Davis, the executive directors of the Carlsbad Village Association. Davis, along with Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce President Bret Schanzenbach, have been working long hours to ensure all businesses in the city are kept in the loop regarding the latest information and resources available.
“I’ve helped get information out regarding the safe re-opening plan template that both retail and restaurants need to post at their front doors or windows,” Davis said. “We’re really making a plea to return to Main Street America. Now, it’s time to support the small businesses that have been hurt so much by this.”
Outside the Village, Schanzenbach said the re-openings have been a source of mental relief for many business owners. Still, many still face tough obstacles during an unemployment rate more than 20% in the region and inspiring consumer confidence.
The past two months, though, have forced businesses to re-assess their long-term strategic planning, especially from a holistic viewpoint, Schanzenbach said. Those pivots points, he said, especially came to light after many businesses did not receive federal assistance.
In one unofficial poll conducted by the chamber, Schanzenbach said just 25% of respondents were approved for the first round of federal loans. The chamber and city conducted a second poll, after the second round of funding was approved, and 25% of businesses said they were approved.
Regardless, he said businesses now must inspire consumer confidence by adhering to the latest health guidelines, such as wearing facemasks, limiting capacity, physical distancing and frequent sanitation.
For example, restaurants, which have been one of the hardest-hit industries, have seen a varied approach, Schanzenbach said. Some opened on May 21, others opted to wait at least one week and get their protocols in place.
“They are anxious to have a chance to prove they can do it safely,” Schanzenbach said. “It’s time for business to be deep in their strategy and how they can pivot and adjust. You have to create a comfort level and consumer confidence that your space is a safe place.”