On March 16, the Berkeley Public Health Department ordered residents to “shelter-in-place” in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with the city’s guidelines, all businesses deemed “non-essential” were required to shut their doors indefinitely. Across the country, other cities have taken similar safety measures: by mid-April, over half of America’s small businesses were temporarily closed, and were calling for relief funding from their state governments. It has now been over two months since non-essential businesses in Berkeley closed; many restaurants have switched to delivery-only and a few beloved businesses have closed for good. So, how are Berkeley’s small businesses faring during this pandemic?
A Priori, a shop located in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, has sold sustainable home goods and gifts for over eight years. It is now closed temporarily. Lisa Tana, A Priori’s owner, explained the hardship of running a small business that relies on an older customer base during the difficult time. “We were feeling the effects of virus fears even before the shutdown, as there was much less traffic. We have sold online since the closure, but we’ve still lost 90 percent of our sales.” With A Priori suffering in the present, Tana is also unsure about its future: “I fear that even when things do re-open, our recovery will be slow because people will be reluctant to shop. It’s entirely possible that we’ll have to close permanently if sales don’t pick up in the fourth quarter.” A Priori has received a small relief grant from the City of Berkeley, and is expecting two Small Business Administration loans to cover the payroll of workers temporarily. Voicing a common sentiment, Tana said, “I’m grateful for the help, but these are short-term solutions.” She does not know when her business will be able to re-open or what social distancing measures she’ll need to implement when that day comes.
Monica Rocchino, co-owner of The Local Butcher Shop in North Berkeley, has had a very different experience with COVID-19. As an essential business selling all things meat, the butcher shop has had much higher delivery sales, and many customers are buying takeout in-store while keeping a six-foot distance from others. “For the past month or two, it’s just been a nonstop whirlwind of work for us. We’ve had to bring in extra meat coolers to meet demand, which we used to only need during Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Rocchino explained why the pandemic was having this effect: “People are cooking more from home, of course. The surge might also have to do with the recent outbreaks at large meat-processing plants, so Berkeley residents might be less keen on buying from grocery store chains.” This was in reference to recent COVID-19 product contaminations at Tyson Foods facilities and other big meat producers. “We’re doing our best to adapt … only three customers are allowed in the store at once, all our employees have masks on, and we’re washing our hands more than ever,” Rocchino stated. “Our business is definitely the outlier during this time. We’re very fortunate to be in the position to not need government assistance, and to keep all of our workers.”