Small businesses get creative to outlast COVID-19
Pete Menchaca and Leanne Iverson used to sell Menchaca Chocolates along Cabrillo Boulevard during the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show. Then, a COVID-19 mandate ended their run.
Menchaca Chocolates is one of many businesses hit by COVID-19 restrictions. Sometimes, there’s enough community support to stay open. But others have to close up shop.
The United States Census Bureau surveys small businesses each week to see how COVID-19 is impacting them. Most California businesses say the pandemic has had a “moderate negative impact” or a “large negative impact.”
At the end of April, 56.1% of California business owners indicated a large negative impact. As of September 5, 36.3% have indicated the large drop.
As places moved into phase two of the reopening plan, business owners responded less negatively. Still, very few businesses have responded neutrally or positively.
Mr. Menchaca runs the business full-time, so he couldn’t just wait for the arts and crafts show to open back up. He, alongside other vendors, found a spot in the Makers Market in De La Guerra Place. Lisa Green, president and CEO of the Makers Market, said she gets two to three merchants each week that want to join.
She feels lucky that she was allowed to continue the market, though she feels badly for the others that had to shut down. And closing down State Street traffic has been beneficial, as well.
Sunday, 10 booths lined State Street. Customers slowly strolled by, eyeing the handmade goods.
Luan McDuffee and Casey Steiner are a mother-daughter pair that sell a couple of products they make themselves. They started by selling children’s dresses on Etsy 10 years ago, and expanded into more categories, like soap and coasters, over time.
In the summer, Etsy contacted them about the shortage of masks. The company said the demand outweighed the supply and needed sewers to make the product.
So, the duo made some masks and listed them online. They sold out less than a minute later. During the time of high demand, they made 75 masks per day.
They weren’t alone. Many other entrepreneurs bought up fabric and elastic to sell masks. It was hard for them to get the supply, but it was worth it.
Ms. McDuffee said that people have always been nice, and have been more eager to support her and her daughter’s small business lately.
“Maybe people are out to support each other,” she said.
Valerie Chavez, a former UCSB student, said she prefers to shop at local businesses and has been looking for ways to support them during the pandemic, through online purchases or grabbing a drink.
“I look out for small businesses more now,” she said, “but I feel like more large corporations have been overtaking them.”
Her friend, Daisy Pallafox, agreed. She’s tried to support local shops, but she’s noticed many closing. There’s a lot of love for small businesses on their social media feeds, but they see big companies getting the most traffic.
Don and Helen Hightower, a couple visiting from San Luis Obispo, had similar opinions. Mr. Hightower said he likes to buy more locally, but it’s hard when all the major companies sell products at the click of a button. It’s just more convenient.
He wishes there was a better program to assist small businesses, that would provide them a knowledge of what to do.
Ms. Green feels like officials don’t always see small entrepreneurs.
“It’s hard to get anything from the government, so you have to do it all on your own,” she said. “I feel like big corporations are overtaking small businesses.”
Ms. Iverson said some of her friends from the market have gotten grants that help them stay open. She stays positive about their futures.
At first glance, State Street didn’t feel like it was undergoing a pandemic Sunday afternoon (apart from the masks). Families and friends walked together; dogs had their heads scratched by strangers and bicyclists weaved through foot traffic. Lululemon formed a five-person line, and there was a consistent crowd around McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams.
But there weren’t handfuls of shopping bags, and parklets had plenty of empty seats. People seemed mellow, except the small business owners. They worked with an energy and big smiles as they hoped to usher in new business.