Coronavirus

Los Altos merchants count their losses, seek help

Kristy Gobright
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Kristy Gobright’s business, Salon 121 in downtown Los Altos, is among those that have had to temporarily close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some are wondering what a city like Los Altos, driven by small business, will look like after the coronavirus pandemic has moved through. 

And nearby, Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch fame said the lockdown has led to the permanent closure of his Dan Gordon’s restaurant in Palo Alto. He predicted that as many as one-third of all restaurants in Palo Alto would close for good.

A recent report from city of Los Altos economic development coordinator Anthony Carnesecca noted there are 882 businesses registered in the city.

“If you remove the 80 ‘essential’ businesses ... that are currently open, the remaining businesses from the compiled active lists total 802 businesses in Los Altos, so approximately 90% of businesses in Los Altos are closed,” he wrote.

According to Carnesecca, it’s hard to tell which establishments will survive.

“We do not have any preliminary estimates on how many businesses will not reopen after the shelter-in-place order because that’s difficult to assess as of right now with the uncertainty around timelines for the shelter in place,” he said in an email.

The city is working to connect businesses with resources. Some business owners are reaching out to Carnesecca on their own.

Feeling forgotten

Salon 121’s Kristy Gobright said she had not heard of any city-led efforts to help small-business owners.

The Main Street tenant said she was angry and frustrated when applying for Small Business Association (SBA) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Her bank, she indicated, has been little to no help.

Exacerbating Gobright’s concerns is her general feeling of small businesses being forgotten. Although Congress approved an approximately $480 billion relief package April 21 after original PPP funding ran dry, research by investment firm Morgan Stanley shows most of the first round of funding went to large public companies with market values ranging between $6 million and $405 million.

“Everyone in my salon is an independent contractor, but I own the business,” Gobright said. “When I go to (apply for) the SBA and PPP (loans), it looks like I only have one employee. I’m a small business, but I’m part of a community here.”

Gobright continues to contemplate one question: How many businesses will be forced out of their spaces once the Santa Clara County urgency ordinance prohibiting eviction expires May 31?

By the Town Crier’s count, nine downtown storefronts were sitting empty before the shelter-in-place order: 155 Main St., former home of Kitchens of Los Altos; 157 Main St., former home of Stuart’s Apparel by Nellie K; 166 Main St., Suite 2, former home of ByteGain; 220 Main St., former home of Ligtelyn Travel; 222 Main St., former home of Village Stationers; 343 Main St., former home of Los Altos Lighting; 400 Main St., Suite 190, former home of Keller Williams; 169 State St., former home of the Assistance League of Los Altos; and 252 State St., former home of Exotic Silks.

Holding out hope

Members of the Los Altos City Council said local help may be on the way for merchants like Gobright. Councilwoman Neysa Fligor pointed to a $250,000 small-business relief package set to be finalized at Tuesday’s council meeting, after the Town Crier’s press deadline.

“Although the relief fund package will not be enough, it is something, and I encourage residents and organizations that are able to support these groups to do so as well,” Fligor said.

Mayor Jan Pepper said she has received many emails from business owners asking for help and has been checking in with them.

“This is a difficult time for so many people and we want to help as best we can,” Pepper said. “We love our small businesses and want to do what we can to help them survive this most extraordinary circumstance.”

For more information on the city of Los Altos’ resources for small-business owners, visit bit.ly/357LY6O.

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