Fight for Survival: Small Business Owners’ Backs are Against the Wall

Small businesses across Clovis are struggling to stay open going into October, seven months after the shutdown. (CR Photo)

Business owners of Old Town Clovis gathered at the House of Juju to have more than mouth-watering burgers.

On September 23, the group devised a plan to re-opening indoor activity in their establishment with safe social distancing measures. For the last two and a half months, these meetings have discussed when the re-opening would happen.

On October 1, the plan is businesses in Old Town will open their doors, risking their business license to take a stance, but with sanitation measures.

More than 20 participants were there, including the owner’s of House of Juju, Old Town Saloon, and Rodeo Coffee Shop.

Many businesses had to shut their doors permanently due to the government shutdown caused by COVID-19. Some business owners can not even apply for the Paycheck Protection Programs due to being independent contractors and rely on clientele to make a living.

“You’re either going to be sheep that get run over, or you’re going to be a leader,” says Cora Shipley, President of the Business Organization of Old Town Clovis.

The Business Organization of Old Town Clovis also known as B.O.O.T.,  is an organization that supports the growth and business among Old Town Clovis. They recently gave up their office space due to financial cuts.

B.O.O.T. itself had managed to scrape by themselves with what events they are allowed to have, an example is their Friday night farmers’ market which has been extended until October 30. They do, however, plan on having a Clovis Antique Flea Market set for October 18.

B.O.O.T. also helps fund many non-profit organizations, but without events, they cannot continue to do that to full capacity. However, they are looking forward to hosting their annual One Enchanted Evening event, a Christmas event they choose not to cancel this year. 

“The only way change happens, is if we take a stand and create that change,” Julie Glenn, Co-owner of House of Juju.

With financial devastation coming down on the House of Juju, Glenn and her family have continued the indoor dining, from the two weeks the shutdown was lifted when it was allowed 50 capacity.

Glenn has received support from her loyal customers and her share of citations and anguish in the time of COVID-19. Choosing to continue indoor operations, Glenn received a $1,000 fine. Choices are limited to what they should do to continue the business; they chose the tactic of surrendering their beer and wine license.

Glenn says she will continue to open her doors to hungry customers until an order says they cannot.

Many business owners share the same frustration, like a flower shop, which is just as essential.

“We opened the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, I’ll make it super short and sweet, cause this industry doesn’t affect you until you have a loved one pass away,” says Jeana Parenti, Owner of Clovis Floral and Cafe.

Clovis Floral and Cafe has been shut down since March 20 and briefly opened up a week before Mother’s Day.

Parenti is frustrated, saying that it is not like making pizza; she cannot just get the ingredients for her arrangements. It takes time.

Scrabbling to work, Parenti said Mother’s Day brings in a third of her income for a year, just in one day.

For bars, some are choosing to remain closed, like Jimbo’s on Herndon Avenue. The state allows bars to be open with the exception of selling food.

“I’m afraid someone is going to come in there and buy a beer and pass it off to somebody else who is underage, and Alcohol Beverage Control shows up, and I get busted,” says Kimberly Cox, owner of Jimbo’s.

Cox said that she’s afraid that her establishment would be like an Applebees where you do not have to be 21 to enter if she opens up.

For others, their business is their livelihood, and all they have for means of survival.

Miss Kitty’s Lounge is on the brink of a permanent shutdown because the owner of the Lounge is being sued by her landlord.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer just last October, I have been fighting stage three triple-negative is a very aggressive form of breast cancer. The day the state got shut down, I had just gotten out of surgery from having a mastectomy and 15 lymph nodes removed; my savings was already wiped out from medical bills,” says Cathrine Hill, Owner of Miss Kitty’s Lounge.

With the state shutdown, Hill was struggling to pay rent without any business. Striking an offer with the landlord was a slim deal. According to Hill, her landlord demanded $23,000 in the first two months of the shutdown without the option to renew her lease for three more years.

With what little options Hill had, she has decided to stay open to pay her landlord, save what she can to leave what she can for her family.

In the summer, Hill learned her cancer now spread to her lungs. Her terminal news just got worse when she received a lawsuit from her landlord when she tried to sell the Lounge in August. Hill has just finished the radiation part of her cancer treatment.

Along with many participating businesses, Hill will be opening Miss Kitty’s Lounge on October 1, despite her compromised immune system.

Tori Lavon is a Multimedia Journalist from Reedley, California. She received her Bachelor's in Mass Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in Broadcasting from California State University, Fresno. Currently, she is a radio intern at One Putt Broadcasting. On occasion, Tori has the opportunity to be on-air with talent. She is getting her start in media. She has a passion for reporting, photography, and videography. Tori also has a love for art; she loves to draw, paint, and does pottery on the side. One day she hopes she can be on-air talent at a radio station as well.