Reopening is only the beginning for struggling small businesses

Owners say operating at limited capacity will make it hard to make up for lost revenue

While many small business were able to reopen indoors on Monday, some owners say operating on a limited basis will make it hard to make up for lost revenue and debts accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“It’s very bittersweet and quite depressing because it then reminds you of what you’ve lost,” said Candace Combs, co-owner of In-Symmetry Spa in the Mission District. “It reminds you: You’re in the middle of a Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat and you’ve got to figure out how to get back to some sort of land.”

In-Symmetry grossed $60,000 monthly before the coronavirus pandemic, but Owens said it is likely only going to gross about $3,000 to $5,000 monthly now operating at a limited capacity.

Accordingly, Combs and her brother Dave Combs, a co-owner of the business, are planning to rent out some of the rooms in the business to acupuncturists and chiropractors. And they will be focusing on their business consulting company Combs Business Consulting.

“[Small business owners] feel beaten and battered,” Combs said. “And we’re asking ourselves the question: Why do we have any brick and mortar in San Francisco? Why even do business in San Francisco, because San Francisco cares so little about you.”

Combs said the business will likely have three to five employees, instead 15 as it did before the pandemic.

“We’re going to stare down the barrel of $150,000 in debt,” she said. “That changes everything for us.”

According to guidelines announced by city officials Monday, people at personal services businesses including spas, hair salons and tattoo shops must maintain at least six feet of physical distance at all times. Stores must use plexiglass dividers to protect clients and workers, and workers must use new disposable gloves between customers.

The permission from The City to reopen came earlier than expected for Jill Bonny, owner of Studio Kazoku, who is grateful that the Haight-Ashbury tattoo shop can now resume its operations.

“Everyone’s gone pretty far into debt,” said Bonny. “It’s going to be a rough year for most people, but hopefully we’ll be able to get all our shops going. It’ll be an absolute loss for San Francisco if tattooing was to go away.”

“There’s so much tattoo history here,” she continued. “It’s such an important city to tattooing that, thankfully, the people that live in San Francisco and around [The City] really treasure their artists and celebrate their tattooing. So I think that a lot of shops are going to open back up to people that are waiting patiently.”

At gyms in San Francisco, officials are allowing people to work out on their own indoors along with one-on-one personal training. Those running, biking or weightlifting must maintain at least 12 feet of distance and people who are involved in stationary activities such as yoga, stretching or meditating must stay at least six feet apart.

One gym going beyond The City’s guideline is Crossfit Golden Gate in San Francisco, where owner Danielle Rabkin said gymgoers indoors are maintaining a distance of 18 feet.

“I’m thrilled because I don’t like operating outdoors in smoky [and] toxic air levels, so I’m really happy to be moving indoors,” Rabkin said.

But the business’ financial woes still loom, as it has lost roughly $100,000 in revenue since the shutdown in March and Rabkin has to pay more than $50,000 in deferred commercial rent.

“Ten percent capacity is not going to keep my business alive, not if I have to pay the rent that I’m paying,” she said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

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