The sign posted on the front door of Maguire’s Irish Pub in Petaluma pretty much says it all: “We Don’t Know What the Hell We’re Gonna Do.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many Marin business owners, as well as those across the Bay Area. With the third shut down enacted on December 8 by Marin County officials, which preemptively and voluntarily adopted the state of California’s mandate ahead of schedule, it’s the last straw for many business owners who say they simply cannot endure any more.
Joe Pelleriti, who owns Maguire’s Irish Pub, recently posted this Facebook video, in which he openly addresses his financial struggles, while simultaneously expressing understanding of the reasons behind the shut-down. Pelleriti, who has owned his business for more than 8 years, enjoyed his most profitable year in 2019. He reinvested some of that profit into renovations early in 2020, and was preparing for St. Patrick’s Day — the busiest day of the year for Maguire’s — when he got the news that his establishment had to shut down at 10 p.m. on March 16. “It was devastating,” he says. “We had basically no notice, and were stuck with thousands of dollars in perishables that we either had to give to employees or give away for free on the street.” While he was able to secure a nominal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loan and was open briefly for outdoor dining in the summer, it wasn’t enough to make much of a difference. Pelleriti has amassed more than 70,000 in back rent and is considering selling the business and changing careers altogether.
“We’ve followed the rules, but the communication between our government and small business has been atrocious,” he says. “It’s inconsistent across the board without regard to the needs of a small business, especially a restaurant. We haven’t been given enough notice, for starters.”
Hair and nail salons in Marin, as well as other businesses considered to be non-essential, are also struggling with the recent shut-down. Katerina Daraki, who is 60 and has owned Benvenuto Salon in San Anselmo for 21 years, says she has dug into her personal savings to pay her employees, as well as invested nearly ten thousand dollars in safety measures. It doesn’t sit well with her that Governor Newsom seems to have his own agenda and has kept his own businesses open with large PPP loans toppling $3 million, according to recent news reports that broke the same day as the Marin County mandate went into effect.
Matt Willis, Marin County’s Public Health Officer, said in a December 4 press release about the mandate, “Although Marin has fared better than some other counties in our region over the last few weeks, we know it is only a matter of time before rising case and hospitalization put pressure on our hospitals, too. We must act now and must act together to ensure all hospitals in the Bay Area have the capacity they need to care for our residents.”
However, Maya Webb, owner of Hendrix Salon in Mill Valley, doesn’t believe in the blanket shutdown approach that the county is taking this time around. She recently organized a protest with other salon owners in front of Willis’ San Rafael office. “We wanted to send a message that this is unfair and devastating to our industry,” Webb said. “Salons are being preemptively closed despite taking precautions and no evidence of tracing the spread for Covid-19.” She adds, “If I was told to wear a hazmat suit, I would do it, and have my employees do it too, if that means we could stay open and feed our families.”
While many retail stores have been able to operate under the restrictions, it has been a very challenging year for them. Bob Bijou, who has owned the much loved Two Neat variety store in Mill Valley along with his wife Louise for 34 years, says he is feeling the effects of being shut down for more than four months earlier in 2020. Two Neat, which had Robin Williams as a customer, is now open part-time to sell its unique collection of quirky gifts and funny cards. Sales are okay, but not nearly what they normally are, according to Bijou.
Frustrated by the lack of governmental assistance, many businesses have turned to community support to keep afloat. Bijou started a GoFundMe account in August. So far, he’s raised more than 18,000 in support, with donations coming mostly from locals. Other business owners do not want to go that route, such as Daraki and Pelleriti, who feel uncomfortable asking for money. And there are more widespread support efforts, like the Covid-19 Fund managed by the Marin Community Foundation directed to non-profits who offer family assistance.
David Wells, the owner of 101 Surf Sports in San Rafael, attests that the shutdown has been a bit of a mixed blessing for his business as he was short-handed prior to the pandemic. “Our retail business has done really well, but with that said we are physically and mentally exhausted.” His store also offers rentals and lessons for a variety of water sports.
Wells feels deeply for his friends who own restaurants. “The way this played out for them is particularly cruel,“ he says, adding that, “the hokey pokey shutdown was a head fake face slap.” He implores others to help out local restaurants by “choosing one week a month and eat pickup or delivery every day that week, and keep doing it until this shutdown ends.”
Many business owners lament how they have almost all their financial assets tied to their business, while individuals have profited. Pelleriti says, “The Dow (stock market) is over 30,000, and that’s great, but my money is in a local business that employs local people and feeds fire evacuees for free.” He points out how restaurants have to invest in working capital and buy products constantly with a limited shelf life, such as produce. “Even operating at 25% capacity, you can’t meet your daily goals because humans eat and drink at certain times,” he says.
Other business owners, like Wells, are in a position to be more optimistic. “Perseverance is doing all the hard work after all the hard work is done,” he says. “We can do this.”
How to help:
Consider supporting one of these local nonprofits that urgently need support during the pandemic.
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Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer in Marin County who writes mostly about family and kid-oriented topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel while reading a good book or whipping up something delicious in her space-challenged kitchen. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to seniors and disabled individuals.