Surviving the shutdown

Businesses modify operations to maintain service, retain staff

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Surviving the shutdownWhile scores of businesses around town have shuttered their operations because of restrictions relating to COVID-19, some entrepreneurs have made significant modifications in order to maintain some level of service.

Ryan Abbatoye of Rad Custom Graphics, specializing in everything from T-shirt printing and embroidery to vehicle wraps to banners, is among those who initially closed when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

He had a few “essential” contracts with law enforcement and emergency services that he could continue supporting, “but we definitely had to reduce hours for our employees.”

When the shortage of cloth face coverings came out, Abbatoye pulled his crew back. Everyone learned to sew, and started churning out customizable masks that meet Centers for Disease Control standards.

“It’s been good because it helps people who couldn’t get masks stay safe while they get back to work, but it also provided a good way to give my crew work.”

Anyone looking to purchase masks from RCG can call 760-677-9240.

Kelly Walden, general manager of Ridgecrest Cinemas, was another impacted business. When Newsom first outlined social distancing guidelines to businesses, Walden and her staff ramped up sanitizing protocols and made sure customers were appropriately spaced. They were able to hang on until new orders closed them down, as well, as a non-essential operation.

“We definitely had to get creative about how we save money, and how we could make money,” said Walden. “The only thing I had left as an option was selling food.”

Three weeks ago, she began curbside popcorn sales. Hundreds of cars lined up to support the venture. The traffic has waned in recent weeks, but it’s enough to make it worth her while.

“One thing I really appreciate is the sense of community that has come out of this,” she said. Many customers show up just because they want to support the cinema, and businesses have sponsored the event to help reduce costs for the theater.

Bill Farris has seen impacts on both essential and nonessential sides of the commercial coin. Ashley Furniture is one of those operations that was ordered to close.

However, thanks to proactive efforts from the corporate office, he was able to maintain some of his staff through distance-friendly sales.

“From the very beginning, Ashley did what they could to enhance our online capabilities,” said Farris. The Ashley website offers free threshold deliver, which reduces customer cost but also encourages engagement in online sales.

Ashley then opened up options for employees to man phones during limited hours in order to assist local customers with purchases.

Although the store has suffered deep impact from the loss of in-store sales, it has greatly increased its online sales. “Nationwide, the increase is between four and five times the volume of previous online sales,” he said.

“It is by no means the same. There are still a lot of people who want to see and touch what they are going to buy. But it has allowed us to maintain some staff. And we have also brought back some of those who were furloughed with the help of the payroll protection plan.”

Farris said that although John’s Pizza has remained open, he was forced to reduce his staff once the dining room was closed. “That said, the community has been very supportive of our take-out and delivery options.”

With that brisk business he was able to shuffle tasking to allow some staff to come back under different job functions.

Each proprietor expressed appreciation for the collaborative and supportive groundswell that has come out through the crisis.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the community, which has done a great deal to help not just John’s but many other restaurants remain in operation,” said Farris.

“I think this speaks specifically to the caring nature of our community and the understanding that we are all in this together. Some people have been more affected than others, but when we all take up a part of the load it helps those experiencing hardship.”

“Apart from driving sales, our efforts at the movie theater have also drawn people together,” said Walden. “That’s something I want to be a part of.”

“You know, I think our community is pretty awesome. Especially when you look at other cities in Southern California,” said Abbatoye. “People here watch out for each other.”

Pictured: Ryan Abbatoye (right) and Lisa Mangiola sew masks for the community. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-04-24