Bay Area business owners struggle to reopen with limited relief funds, drop in customers

As select businesses across Texas are reopening according to Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines, owners of local eateries, boutiques and salons said they are faced with an uphill battle as they attempt to make up for lost revenue. (Courtesy Pexels)
As select businesses across Texas are reopening according to Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines, owners of local eateries, boutiques and salons said they are faced with an uphill battle as they attempt to make up for lost revenue. (Courtesy Pexels)

As select businesses across Texas are reopening according to Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines, owners of local eateries, boutiques and salons said they are faced with an uphill battle as they attempt to make up for lost revenue. (Courtesy Pexels)

As select businesses across Texas are reopening according to Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines, owners of local eateries, boutiques and salons said they are faced with an uphill battle as they attempt to make up for lost revenue.

With social distancing standards in place, salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen May 8, followed by gyms, nonessential manufacturers and businesses located in office buildings May 18. Retail stores have been allowed to operate with to-go models since April 24, and they have been permitted to reopen with limited occupancy since May 1, along with restaurants, movie theaters and malls.

Bay Area small business owners said they are unsure, but hopeful, as to how their shops will fare with the state’s slow reopening.

Restaurants, bakeries continue adapting to stay afloat

Although restaurants were deemed essential and therefore not mandated to close, Holly Berry Tea Room owner Rhonda Karim said the business closed for five weeks after takeout-only orders were deemed not to be enough to justify staying open.

“I was spending more money being open versus sending our employees home to be safe,” she said.

The League City tea room reopened at the beginning of May and is operating with its full menu. Karim had been preparing to reopen when Abbott gave restaurants the go-ahead to operate at reduced capacity, so the timing was ideal, she said. The restaurant is in what used to be a house, so the separate rooms make it easier to practice social distancing, Karim said.

Karim said she had many excited regular customers “standing at the door doing cartwheels” once the tea room opened its doors again. This, combined with the rent assistance she received from her landlord, have been “little blessings,” she said.

Not all small business owners have had the same luck, however: Casey Cardona, co-owner of CaseBakes in Webster, said that her landlord was not able to provide any abatement because her landlord had not received any financial assistance.

“With these small businesses, what a lot of people don't understand is there’s no relief coming from the top down,” Cardona said. “There is no help for the little guys.”

Before the pandemic, CaseBakes received custom cookie orders mostly from corporations as well as for birthday parties and baby showers. The business also sold baked goods at shops and boutiques, which closed one by one as the coronavirus spread, she said.

CaseBakes remained open, adapting its offerings to meet the needs of Bay Area residents and expanding beyond custom cookies. Cardona and the bakery staff are still working around the clock to fill an influx of orders as people find new ways to celebrate amid coronavirus-related restrictions, according to a May 5 Facebook post.

“We’ve had to completely alter the menu and the way we service the public,” she said.

Businesses reopen with uncertainty

Sandy Carney, who owns The Clothes Horse Boutique, said retail stores like hers face the challenge that people may not be in the market for a new wardrobe right now. Until office buildings and social hotspots reopen, she said, turning a profit could be a challenge.

“People have to have places to go to wear these clothes,” Carney said. “All these businesses are kind of tied together.”

The boutique is open at its regular hours, with items being added daily to the store’s online shop. The 3,000-square-foot storefront ensures shoppers can practice social distancing, Carney added. A sanitation station, disposable masks and wipes are available in the store, she said.

It is unclear if Bay Area residents will feel comfortable shopping locally given the pandemic, Carney added.

“It’s just a scary time,” she said. “I don’t think anyone knows what to expect because we don’t have a roadmap for this happening before.”

Courtney Flemming, owner of Headz Up Haircuts in League City, said that once the shop reopens May 8 on an appointment-only basis, it will use a system similar to how some restaurants have managed customers, where people can wait in their cars and receive a text or call once their chair is ready.

“Now, everybody’s going crazy. ... I feel like we’re the toilet paper—everybody needs us now,” Flemming said May 7 after spending the morning booking appointments.

After receiving money from the Paycheck Protection Program, Flemming was able to bring all stylists back to the salon. One newer stylist chose not to return to work right away because she will earn more by collecting unemployment, and without a reliable client base to provide tips, many early-career hairdressers will face the same dilemma, Flemming said.

“If you’re scared, of course, stay home. But if you’re not, come out,” she said.

By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.



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