Although many remain open, small businesses are feeling the impact of omicron

Small businesses nationwide are feeling the impact of rising new COVID-19 cases, primarily due to the omicron variant. The spread of the virus is causing staffing problems, higher costs and fewer customers, they say.

Some businesses said they were forced to close temporarily because they didn’t have enough staff to stay open, while others were over-scheduling staff for shifts, just in case someone one would get sick and couldn’t get in.

The Roguelike Tavern, a bar in Burbank, Calif., has announced that it will remain closed after its Christmas vacation, at least until next Monday, but will only offer takeout and delivery.

According to John McCormick, the owner of The Roguelike Tavern, the risk of exposure for bar staff became apparent when they kept hearing from people they were in contact with testing positive for COVID.

“We had a few near misses at the bar,” McCormick told ABC News. “People who were in one night were posting on their social media the next day [day] on the positive test. Even with [Burbank’s] high vaccination rate, it was everywhere,” McCormick said.

At least 75% of Los Angeles residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to LA County.

The decision to close meant the bar was canceling all of its planned events this week, including karaoke, trivia and a New Year’s Eve party.

“We’re a small bar, no windows, very little ventilation; having a bunch of people singing along, it just wasn’t going to fly,” McCormick said.

McCormick will reduce its workforce while serving only take-out and delivery. This means that its hourly paid staff will earn less money.

“I’m going to set up a Venmo for them to hopefully get some regulars to help out in case we have to be closed for an extended period of time.”

While kitchen workers are paid above minimum wage, McCormick worries about his bartenders, who are paid minimum wage, which he says is barely a living wage in Los Angeles.

“My bartenders are looking at pretty paltry tips for at least the next two weeks,” McCormick said.

McCormick hopes his business, which he opened this year, is in a good position to weather the next few weeks of shutdown now that he has a steady clientele looking to support him. If the number of cases drops, he plans to fully reopen on January 19.

The Roguelike Tavern is far from the only small business that has had to close its doors. Franklin Barbecue, a restaurant in Austin, Texas, closed its dining room last week after several staff members tested positive for COVID-19, according to its Facebook page.

“Due to the absence of these team members, we do not have enough staff to operate. It takes a village to run this restaurant and we hope to have enough healthy people in time to reopen next Tuesday. “, said the restaurant in the post. .

Kome, a sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas, also closed to perform health and safety checks on staff due to exposure to COVID-19, according to its social media page.

Kome then had to extend his shutdown period as he “struggled to get staff tested quickly and get results quickly,” his Instagram page said.

After two employees tested positive for the virus, the restaurant closed on December 18 and staff were told to get tested. Testing appointments weren’t readily available given it was a week before Christmas, Kome operations manager Elizabeth Hyman told ABC News.

While most staff were able to get tested by December 20, some were unable to get appointments until December 21. When the decision was made to reopen, not all staff test results had come back.

“I stayed in touch with the management team throughout the process, checking the results with everyone and calling late Tuesday night to reopen dinner service Wednesday at 4 p.m. If we didn’t get with the remaining test results in time, we would have just raced with a reduced crew and we would have had to stick with it,” Hyman said.

Other test results came back negative.

Hyman said she was frustrated with the difficulty of finding testing sites that accept walk-in appointments or have appointments available in addition to how expensive PCR testing has become.

Test sites with immediate availability charged upwards of $160. One of the places she found charged $280.

“I was very disappointed that after nearly two years of battling this virus, we still do not have the necessary resources available to everyone, regardless of income level, to be able to get tested and help to fight the spread of this deadly virus,” Hyman said.

Kome has only been open for curbside pickup since March 2020. The restaurant was closed for a total of four days, and even that short time hurt business.

“Having to close Christmas week, when everyone has family in town and the kids are out of school, was a huge financial blow to us, not to mention the products we had to throw away. fresh produce deliveries every day, chicken, fresh fish, prepared foods, all of that had to be thrown away,” Hyman said.

Kome staff weren’t the only ones who couldn’t get their test results back quickly. An employee of The Brattle Bookshop, a second-hand bookstore in Boston, was out of work for five days while awaiting a COVID test result, its owner told ABC News. The test eventually came back negative.

Because he had symptoms, the employee was a bit more limited about where he could get a COVID test, an additional hurdle above labs already overwhelmed with testing, said owner and owner Ken Gloss. from The Brattle Bookshop, to ABC News.

It’s a problem that Tarik Fallous, the owner of Au Za’atar, a Lebanese restaurant with two locations in New York, has also had. As a result, some employees had to stay home for five or six days to get their test results. Others, however, only needed to stay home for two days.

Some Gloss staff have been off work in recent weeks because those who were supposed to care for their children tested positive for COVID.

“It happens. At the best of times, child care can be a problem. And this time it happened way more than we’d like. But we pulled it off,” Gloss told ABC News.

Fallous said being safe and telling staff to stay home if they’re not feeling well has had a big economic impact on his small business.

“We always have to have extra staff on hand in case one or two staff don’t come to work or aren’t feeling well…which can be costly for a small restaurant,” Fallous said.

By not providing additional staff, Fallous would risk losing customers.

“The other option would be not to add additional staff, but to take a chance and then possibly sacrifice quality or service. And in the long run, that wouldn’t be good for restaurants,” he said. -he declares.

Fallous said business has been very “inconsistent” over the past few weeks. On days when the number of cases is high, the restaurant sees a lot of cancellations. When the number of cases is not so high, he said Au Za’atar receives a lot of reservations.

“They’re not behaving like they maybe were a month ago,” Fallous said. “I see a lot of people asking to sit outside where it’s not covered.”

Fallous also saw more customers ordering takeout or delivery.

“I see the company’s take-out and delivery growing, much more now than when the pandemic started,” Fallous said.

Fallous said the price of dropping in-person dining could cost the company up to 30% or 40%, depending on the size of the order.

“All the fees associated with deliveries can get expensive. So financially it’s not a big advantage, but the advantage is being able to reach our customers and deliver it to them,” he said.

Gloss was surprised by its bookstore’s performance over the holiday season, even compared to before the pandemic. But, he has noticed that business has been slowing down in recent days. Gloss said the omicron variant emerged so quickly that people have only just begun to respond to the increase in cases.

Gloss said the surge has caused some groups’ businesses to slow more than others.

“Very, very noticeably, the average age of people coming in is 20, 30 or 40 years younger than normal. A lot of our old customers, regulars and older people, we don’t see them at all,” Gloss said. . “I think they are much more worried.”

Fallous, whose business relies on many products imported from Lebanon, said costs that increased during the pandemic have increased further in recent weeks due to omicron.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the company to source supplies and often suppliers limit the number of products Au Za’atar can purchase, he said.

“They don’t have enough and they want to supply everyone and on top of that the price has gone up tremendously,” he said.

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