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Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    What the end of the lockdown means for struggling local businesses

    STAR // Isabelle Barkey Well-known Friar Tuck’s pub on E. Cotati Ave has closed due to the pressure of COVID-19 and multiple shutdowns. 

    STAR // Isabelle Barkey 

    Well-known Friar Tuck’s pub on E. Cotati Ave has closed due to the pressure of COVID-19 and multiple shutdowns. 

    As of Jan. 25, the second regional stay-at-home order was lifted, and Sonoma County was categorized in the purple tier. For Rohnert Park, this could provide businesses with the opportunity to slowly reopen and boost economic activity. 

    Within the purple tier, businesses like wineries and restaurants, among others, “are permitted to operate only outdoors with modifications,” according to Daniel Virkstis, Public Affairs Program Manager for Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works, Paul Gullixson, Communications Manager for Sonoma County.

    Although the city took steps to help businesses during the lockdown, staying open is a struggle for many owners. Rohnert Park City Councilmember, Susan Hollingsworth Adams explained that the city “has reached out to every single business in town, on a personal basis, to help them learn what county, state and federal benefits are available. Many business owners were unaware of benefits available to them.” The move to outdoor dining, and limited opening of other businesses, has the potential to help small businesses in the area.

    Because outdoor dining and restrictions changed often throughout the pandemic, owners got creative with services they offered to make some sort of revenue. Kevin Gingher, owner of Spancky’s Bar in downtown Cotati, managed to stay open by working two other jobs, and a delivery service of “cocktails in mason jars,” and plans to deliver “drinks, roses and chocolate covered strawberries,” for Valentine’s Day. 

    Likewise, Gerard Giudice, Mayor of Rohnert Park and owner of Sally Tomatoes and Heirloom Café, tried delivering family packed meals, offering to-go services, and providing some “individually sealed meals for essential workers,” to try and make up some of his lost revenue. 

    But even then, these solutions don’t provide enough for businesses to sustain themselves for an indefinite period of time. Gingher explains “these days, with people itching to get out of the house, the delivery market has dried up substantially”.

    While outdoor dining is a start for struggling local restaurants, owners are quick to point out that limited service, and constantly having to comply with changing restrictions, often  leads to other expenses. 

    Giudice explains “Anytime… the business is required to pivot, whether it’s pivot to close, or pivot to open, or increase services or take services away, it costs more money. And so every one of these missteps, if you will, whether it’s backwards or forwards comes at a price tag.”  

    Giudice continued, “I think we’ve been opened and closed six times since last March, so surviving is very difficult. I have one third of the staff that I had last March… we have managed to barely scrape by,” through qualifying for loans and programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. 

    In the long run, the shifting policies that come as a result of fluctuating case numbers hurts local owners.

    Since the number of COVID cases in Sonoma County determines which reopening tier the county falls under, it’s important for the community to maintain practices that slow the spread of the virus. The only way to permanently end the lockdown is if community members and bigger businesses take necessary precautions to try and push Sonoma into the red tier and so on, to help save local businesses from having to close again.

    One employee and Sonoma State student, who works in retail and prefers to remain nameless for fear of losing her job, explained the lack of precautions her workplace has in place. “There have been multiple people at my job get the virus and management doesn’t let us know, and there have been people that I have had direct contact with and we only find out when we don’t see them for a couple weeks,” she explained. 

    “They don’t do any deep cleanings, we are definitely not six feet apart, and I don’t feel like they are keeping a cleanliness standard for us employees,”she said.

    As the pandemic continues, it is chain stores and franchises that front most of the business, but small local businesses that front the cost of the pandemic. Adams said, “you can shop at the big box stores… but… [the city is], for all intents and purposes, closed.”

    Unfortunately Friar Tucks Pub was another Cotati business that was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Friar Tucks Pub closed its doors this past month after being a favorite Irish Pub of Sonoma County residents and Sonoma State students for nearly three decades.

    Randy Nixon, owner of the pub, explained, “Prior to COVID-19, our business was healthy. We would host pool tournaments for 17 billiards teams, trivia nights with Sonoma State Professors, fundraisers for youth athletics, and Sonoma State athletic nights,” 

    “When all these avenues such as shared entertainment, athletics, or social gatherings are eliminated, I no longer have a business” Nixon said. 

    Once COVID-19 drained these forms of business, Friar Tucks Pub chose to close the bar on their own terms; not when someone else dictated when their business needed to close. 

    Friar Tucks Pub did have a few times they were open during the pandemic last year, strictly outdoors, but the experience just wasn’t the same.

     Jacob Ramos, a May 2020 graduate with a degree in Financial Management, explained that “during the pandemic, there were limited people and you could only eat and drink outside… I wouldn’t say it was stressful but it was definitely a different vibe.”

    The bar provided many Sonoma students with memories and experiences that last after graduation. Former SSU student Garrett Grubaugh, who also graduated virtually in May 2020 with a Business Marketing degree, said, “Friar’s was a great place for students to come together and experience community. The Thursday night Crawl is a tradition that started with Friar Tucks and it’s a tradition that many Sonoma State students, including myself, loved to be a part of.” 

    “The class of 2020 appreciates specifically Friar Tuck’s but also the Crawl as a whole for helping us make memories during our time at Sonoma State,” he continued. 

    Hopefully, with the direct consequences of the pandemic in our own community, Sonoma County residents can remember the impact of their own choices, and find a way to save small businesses the financial hardship of having to close down again. 

    Giudice explained, “nearly half of the tests that are being given at the Rohnert Park Health Center are coming back positive… so if all of us could really follow… basic guidelines of masking and the sanitizing and the social distancing I think we can knock the numbers down in short order.” 

    Small businesses rely on the communities they serve, and with all the hardship of the pandemic, it is time for residents to come together and help these businesses stay open through slowing the spread of the virus, and ultimately preventing another lockdown. 

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