By Katie Williams
The coronavirus has affected many aspects of public life. Small businesses have been specifically affected. Not knowing what may happen in the future, small business owners are forced to go day-by-day, never knowing when they will have to close their doors. Many businesses are taking drastic measures to keep their customers and employees safe. UHS News collaborated with Ukiah businesses including Schat’s Bakery, Little Brown Bear, Comfort Air Heating and Cooling, and Stars Restaurant hoping to understand how the pandemic has affected their business, what differences they had to make to reopen, and lastly, how much does social distancing, wearing masks, and keeping a clean and safe working environment affect business and employees.
Zach Shat, owner of Schat’s Bakery described how his business “began all new protocol, masks, hand sanitizers, cleaning schedules, plexiglass,” and more. Schat said he found a way to work around not being able to open his doors: he started selling products in essential businesses that didn’t have to close, such as Safeway, Raley’s, and others. By using places that people could go to and offering online orders,, Schat said his bakery was able to stay afloat. Lastly, Schat said, “We are trying our best to be the best we can be, we are taking many precautions as I said earlier.” He went on by saying that, “We are making plans for a “what if” scenario, so if one of our employees comes in contact with a person that has the virus, we will be ready”
But other businesses were not as lucky, such as Stars Restaurant. Stars Restaurant owner Alex Ibrahim said March and April Stars lost 80% of business due to not being allowed to offer dine-in; they did to-go orders only. He said practicing pandemic protocols can be difficult because “Wearing masks is very hard on all of us when working in a hot weather environment, hot kitchen, hot outdoor area. But, we are pressing through doing our part to keep everyone safe.”
According to David Moore, one of the owners of Ukiah’s Comfort Air,“[w]e are an essential business because it’s for people’s health and safety, so we were able to stay open. We did have to issue safety for employees, masks, hand sanitizers,” and other equipment. He added, “It did slow down business because of people’s fear of people coming into their homes.” When having to adapt to social distancing, Moore “It’s more stress on the workers in the field due to the fact that they have to wear masks in the heat.”
Being able to reopen doors was good news for our local businesses. However, it is difficult maintaining a safe environment for not only the customers but the employees. The owner of Ukiah’s toy and children’s clothing store Little Brown Bear Narissa Gowan spoke about enforcing masking requirements stating “the mask is the hardest one because of being confrontational with customers, and having to make them wear masks.”
Schat’s Bakery owner Zach Schats also spoke to enforcing the mask requirements: “Confrontations are very difficult, I encourage my staff to request me to come out and speak to the customer, and when people are acting out I kindly ask them to leave the building.” Then he said that, “if people don’t want to wear a mask then we will take their order outside for them. It’s often difficult with the plexiglass, masks, noise and overall crazy working environment to stay calm.”
Overall it has been a long journey for Ukiah’s small business community. Not knowing what will happen next is a challenge. Zach Scha said “Having great staff is definitely a key, they are willing to show up, and use precautions to stay open. They have been a lesson, I love to talk to them and ask how they feel, and if they’re okay.” Reflecting on running a small business during the times of COVID-19, Schat’s said, “It’s a whole different ball game.”