Local Businesses Struggle Amid COVID-19 Shutdown

Small businesses everywhere including Old Town Clovis businesses whether essential or non-essential have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. (CR Photo)

It’s no secret that local businesses are getting hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Old Town’s community of small businesses amplifies that statement. Anyone who has recently walked down Pollasky will find empty sidewalks and windows displaying closed signs.

Many of the area’s small businesses have temporarily closed to comply with the governor’s shelter in place order, which mandates that all nonessential businesses close.

Those that remain open must now adapt to comply with social distancing measures.

Like all restaurants, Luna Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant closed its dining area and has shifted to take-out orders only. Manager Nico Liberta said the restaurant cut down staff by 70 percent to stay operational.

“We are lucky enough to have been deemed a business that is essential, but we are not getting nearly as much business,” Liberta said. “We haven’t laid anybody off, but they are at home. Once things get better they have a job, but right now we don’t have anything for them to do.”

Greg Sassano, owner of Sassano’s Men’s wear, said he is experiencing a major drop in business as well.

“It’s pretty bad,” Sassano said.

He said he is currently offering to deliver his products to customers as a way to maintain social distancing.

“I’ve been here mainly to accept deliveries and deliver things to people because I have contracts with people who are still working,” Sassano said. “I’m willing to make deliveries if they call, I try to accommodate people.”

While many remain closed, some Clovis businesses organizations have sought to remain operational to support those that are still open.

The Clovis Chamber of Commerce closed its office, but its staff is working remotely to provide its members with information on COVID-19 updates and tips on how to stay afloat.

“When the shelter in place order was directed, our goal with our members was to try to be a source of information for them to give them the tools that they need,” Chamber President and CEO Greg Newman told the Roundup. “A lot of folks were caught on their heels, because of how quick it came.”

The Chamber released an online “COVID-19 tool kit” for its members to share information from the city of Clovis, Fresno County, CalChamber, the Small Business Administration, the state of California and the California Employers Association.

“I think right now everyone is trying to figure out what this means for my business, how do I keep my business running if I can and what measures do I need to take for my business to make sure that I am around when this has run its course,” Newman said.

The Chamber is encouraging people to support their local business by buying gift cards or prepaying for certain services.

“We are asking folks to buy gift certificates today and then use it later on, because these small businesses keep incurring expenses and they have cash flow issues because of a lack of walk in traffic,” Newman said.

The Business Organization of Old Town is promoting the gift card idea as well. BOOT Executive Director Carole Lester said the organization is partnering with the City of Clovis to create a website where people can purchase discounted gift cards for local businesses.

“This can help our businesses stay afloat with much-needed income and people will save money and come to Old Town to spend that money once the virus has subsided,” Lester said. “We look forward to being able to bounce back and help our merchants thrive in the aftermath of this virus.”

BOOT, which canceled its weekly farmers market because of COVID-19, is considering starting a “growers only” farmers market in late April or early May. The market would not have music, picnic tables or lingering, Lester said.

“Just come, get your vegetables and go home,” Lester said. “Farmers Markets are considered essential, like a grocery store. Our Saturday Farmers Market may start-up in mid to late April with just our growers.”

Major restaurants have pushed for ideas to keep profit flowing as well, which has also benefited local restaurants.

A coalition of U.S. restaurant chains declared March 24 as the Great American Takeout Day, for example. Liberta said Luna Pizzeria saw a surge in business that day.

“It helped quite a significant amount, we were really busy that day,” Liberta said.

Even once the coronavirus crisis subsides — and no one knows when that will be — it will take additional time for small businesses to recover.

Newman said the total impact of the crisis will not be fully known until then.

“When this is over and we are dealing with what happened, that is going to be when we know the total impact,” he said. “I think with the business community in Clovis, there are going to have to be some incentives, some programs, some things that are going to get customers to start spending again.

“We are hoping for a quick recovery to this, but we want to make sure small businesses are around when that recovery happens.”

Ron Camacho was born and raised in Clovis. He attended Clovis High School and graduated from CSU Fresno in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications and Journalism. Before joining the Roundup, Ron wrote for Pollstar Magazine and the Sanger Herald. He has a deep appreciation for the arts and is a lover of music, cinema and storytelling. When he’s not busy looking for his next story, Ron enjoys taking weekend expeditions to the beach or mountains to practice landscape photography.