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March 27, 2020

Watsonville’s small businesses adjust to county’s shelter-in-place order

Restaurants open only for takeout, delivery; gyms, theaters shutter

WATSONVILLE—Small business owners throughout the Pajaro Valley are feeling increasing financial pressure after Santa Cruz County officials on Monday ordered all “non-essential businesses” to close their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The shelter-in-place order, which went into effect Tuesday and will last until at least April 7, deemed gyms, theaters, bars, nightclubs, breweries and several other businesses “non-essential.” It also restricted restaurants to only offer takeout and delivery.

Several large local businesses were shuttered Tuesday, including the Green Valley Cinema and Gold’s Gym. 

Many restaurants were still busy understanding what the order meant for their businesses and making the tough calls to their employees to inform them their hours would be cut.

Cilantro’s manager Amanda Rivas said that most of the restaurant’s staff was still in “shock.”

“It’s been very heartbreaking to not have our employees working,” Rivas said. “It’s a very devastating thing for us. We did not see this happening.”

Rivas said the Main Street restaurant employs roughly 50 people. On a normal day, anywhere from 12 to 20 people are working in various capacities. On Tuesday, they had five: two managers and three people in the kitchen.

Rivas said the restaurant is weighing several options to help their employees survive the closure, including splitting their tips between those that are not scheduled to work.

“We’re trying to do something, anything, to help them because they’re our family,” she said.

Rivas said the restaurant will offer curbside pickup from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and that many in the community have said they will continue to support their business through the shutdown. 

“It’s been encouraging,” she said.

Other business owners, however, are scrambling to find financial support through the closure. 

Functional Fitness Training Center owner Brian Orozco said that he will have no daily and weekly income until the order is lifted. Worse, he said his largest group of clientele—older adults—will be wary of how safe it will be to be in public at the end of the order. 

“Right now it’s a little terrifying,” he said. “We still have all our bills to pay and I don’t know if help is coming.”

Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker on Tuesday afternoon said the City Council has called a special meeting for Friday in which it will consider a temporary moratorium on evictions for tenants impacted by COVID-19. The urgency ordinance will also provide protection for commercial renters, Huffaker said.

The federal government has also hastily worked to pass bills that would help small business owners such as Orozco.

On Tuesday the Trump administration asked Congress for $850 billion to help local businesses weather the storm. The bill, announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a Tuesday morning press conference, also includes loans for the airline and hotel industry and a stimulus package for workers negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak, among other things.

“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said. “Americans need cash now, and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks.”

Mnuchin, according to NPR, said he will brief Senate Republicans on the proposal and has already spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Facebook, too, announced Tuesday that it would offer $100 million in cash grants to up to 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries. That cash, according to a post on the social media giant’s blog, would help businesses with rent and operational costs. 

“We know that your business may be experiencing disruptions resulting from the global outbreak of COVID-19,” the post read. “We’ve heard that a little financial support can go a long way, so we are offering $100M(sic) in cash grants and ad credits to help during this challenging time.”

Slice Project co-owner Brando Sencion said that was good news for his recently-established Main Street pizza shop, which has canceled its lunch hours and gone to takeout only from 4-9 p.m.

He said his shop might offer delivery in the coming days.

“Right now, we’re trying to find out what works best for us,” he said. “I’m just an optimistic person in general. We are going to take a hit but I’m hopeful that we’re going to be here and OK after [the order] lifts.”

Breweries around the Pajaro Valley were also trying to find the best method to sell their products.

Fruition Brewing co-owner David Purgason said the Watsonville brewery has shifted to delivery only and focused on brewing new beer. Staff of Life, the Santa Cruz grocer that will soon open a Watsonville location next to Fruition Brewing, was one of his first deliveries.

“Beer takes time, so we’ll focus on our barrels and lagers in anticipation for better days,” Purgason wrote through text message.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.