Local News

Small Business Adapting

Business as usual has taken on a whole new meaning. Teleconferencing, cleaning, and juggling a slew of new concerns for employees and owners alike can be formidable. However, small business owners in Fullerton are finding innovative strategies to survive this unprecedented economic disruption due to the pandemic.

“We are doing our best. We know we are in this together,” Jinan Montecristo, owner of Les Amis Restaurant, said. Early on her whole family caught and recovered from COVID-19 so they recognized the importance of every sanitation protocol recommended and they implemented even more. Jinan explained that it has been a strain physically and mentally dealing with the restrictions and fears of customers and employees. “Our customers have been so supportive of not only us, but of the community as well. They have been donating meals for essential workers through our website.”

A server at Les Amis restaurant in Downtown Fullerton hands a customer a takeout order.

A local jazz musician, Ron Kobayashi, who could be heard at Les Amis’ outdoor venue before the first quarantine, has turned his skills toward education by giving lessons to individuals online and in classrooms where they can social distance. Also adapting to the new social distancing requirements, Michelle Gottlieb, a local therapist, is surviving with the help of Zoom where she meets clients and teaches.

Nonprofit groups have also found inventive ways to support local businesses and the community. One such group, The Assistance League of Fullerton, was inspired to hire Brownstone Café to serve meals to St. Jude’s Hospital staff when the first quarantine shut down businesses. Kim Rhynes, owner and operator, said, “It was a Godsend and helped us so much when we really needed it. We were so appreciative of all the nurses at St. Jude’s ER.” Meeting the challenge of adapting to the recent quarantine protocols, Brownstone started offering family meals at affordable prices as a way to help people in the community. “I knew we had to do something to help families and a family meal seemed the best way to help them.”

Fullerton Loves Food (FLF) a social media-created movement, organized community members to shop at a specific business for the day. Amy Davis, one of the owners of Let It Brie cheese shop said that FLF told them the day they would send people to go on their buying spree, so they were able to get enough staff ready. “We were able to pay our rent and employees for a month or two. We were thrilled to be chosen.” Amy talked about how they had to gear up fast to offer curbside service, delivery, and more gifts items.

Mulberry Street Ristorante also commended the City for making outdoor dining possible. “The City has really stepped up to help all the restaurants on Wilshire Ave. Without their help many of us would have closed probably for good,” owner Brandon Bevins said. The City has continued to support restaurants by not enforcing Governor Newsom’s mandate to shut down leaving restaurants and patrons to follow the guidelines of social distancing and sanitation. According to the CDC, in general, being outdoors and in spaces with good ventilation reduces the risk of exposure to the virus. Being vigilant about contact, wearing face masks, and hygiene is advised at all times.

However, not all businesses were so lucky. Vino Nostra Wine bar found themselves facing a new lease and decided to close rather than sign. The economic uncertainty was too harsh a burden. However, other businesses opened despite the pandemic and have found a modicum of success in these challenging times. “We opened the day before Thanksgiving,” Vijay Rajput, manager of the newly opened Miirch Social, said. “We had planned to open just before the pandemic hit, but with total quarantine we decided to put it off. We just didn’t think it was going to be this long. We have been fortunate, and have been doing great despite the circumstances.”

Changing and adapting to the safety and health measures, owner of Roadkill women’s boutique Julie Rasmussen said, “I installed plexiglass stands at the front counter and added a hand sanitizing station at the front door and back door. It’s been challenging to plan for merchandise deliveries. A lot of the vendors are still having problems with production and some are still backed up with delivering goods due to employees sick with COVID and re-structuring their facilities to meet CDC guidelines.”

Many retailers were able to find alternative sources of income by applying for an EIDL grant and PPP loan, but Terri Kennedy, proprietor of Ipso Facto, personally sewed and shipped over 300 cotton face masks in custom fabrics that paid her rent and utilities. “During this last shut down, we sadly saw the demise of a few vendors and discovered that many suppliers were unable to ship due to worker shortages and the instability of USPS and other shippers.”

As many retail vendors have turned their attention to their websites and social media accounts to bolster sales, Nancy Jamar, owner of Gilding the Lily, lamented, “I have learned some important lessons while forging a new identity for my business: If you’re not in front of people, they’ll forget you in a hot minute.”

Still some businesses found that they were considered essential workers such as Fullerton’s landscape and home improvement specialist David Nelson, owner of Pacific Coast Landscaping. “We have been extremely busy. Everyone’s seeing their yards as a place to live and they want it as nice as the inside of their homes. We have been busier than ever but have had trouble finding people who want to work.” Currently Fullerton has an unemployment rate of 6.90% which has dropped from September’s high of 8.20%.

There are many sources of assistance for businesses but finding the time to devote to navigating all of them may seem daunting. For more help and resources that small businesses can contact:

Fullerton Community and Economic Development for a list of services: Call (714) 738-6837 or email Kelly at KFritzal@cityoffullerton.com.

Small Business Administration: www.sba.gov.

Chamber of Commerce: www.nocchamber.com/covid-19-resources/

2 replies »

    • Hello Hilda Ashworth,
      I live in Fullerton. I am the granddaughter of Ralph Kennedy, one of the founders of the Fullerton Observer.
      Thank you for reading my article.
      Have a lovely day.
      Saskia Kilpatrick