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

Small businesses across the country are feeling the impact of the increase in new cases of COVID-19, mainly due to the omicron variant. The spread of the virus is causing staff problems, higher costs and fewer customers, they say.

Some companies have said they have been forced to shut down temporarily because they don’t have enough staff to stay open, while others are over-planning staff for shifts, just in case someone drops ill and could not enter.

The Roguelike Tavern, a bar in Burbank, Calif., Has announced that it will remain closed after the Christmas holidays, at least until next Monday, but will only offer take-out and deliveries.

According to John McCormick, owner of The Roguelike Tavern, the risk of exposure for bar staff became evident as they continued to hear from people they were in contact with who tested positive for COVID.

“We’ve had a few near misses at the bar,” McCormick told ABC News. “People who were in one night posted on their social networks the next one [day] on the positive test. Even with [Burbank’s] High vaccination rates were 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 means the bar has canceled all of its events scheduled for this week, including karaoke, trivia and a New Years Eve party.

“We’re a small bar, no windows, very little ventilation; having a group of people singing at the top of their lungs just wasn’t going to fly,” McCormick said.

McCormick will downsize while serving only take out and deliveries. This means that its staff paid by the hour will earn less money.

“I’ll set up a Venmo for them to hopefully get regulars to help them out in case we need to be closed for an extended period.”

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 planning pretty paltry tips for at least the next two weeks,” McCormick said.

McCormick is hoping his business, which he opened this year, is in a good position to weather the next few weeks of closure, now that he has a regular customer base looking to support him. If the number of cases decreases, it 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 don’t have enough staff to function. It takes a village to run this restaurant and we hope to have enough healthy people in time to reopen next Tuesday. “the restaurant said in the post. .

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

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

After two employees tested positive for the virus, the restaurant closed on December 18 and staff were asked to get tested. Appointments for the tests were not 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 before December 20, some were unable to get appointments until December 21. When the decision to reopen was made, not all staff test results had come back.

“I kept in touch with the management team throughout the process, checking with everyone for the results and calling late Tuesday night to reopen for dinner service Wednesday at 4 am. If we didn’t get the results from the remaining tests in time, we would have just raced with a small crew and we would have passed, ”said Hyman.

The other test results came back negative.

Hyman said she was frustrated with the difficulty of finding testing sites that walk in or have appointments available, in addition to the cost of PCR testing.

Test sites with immediate availability were charging over $ 160. One of the places she found was charging $ 280.

“I was very disappointed that after almost 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 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 period took its toll on the 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. We get deliveries of fresh produce every day, fresh chicken, fresh fish, prepared foods, everything had to be thrown out, ”Hyman said.

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

Because he was showing symptoms, the employee was a bit more limited in where he could get a COVID test, an added hurdle above labs already inundated with testing, said Ken Gloss, owner and owner. by The Brattle Bookshop, at ABC News.

This is a problem that Tarik Fallous, the owner of Au Za’atar, a Lebanese restaurant with two locations in New York City, 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 at home for two days.

Some Gloss staff have been absent from 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 an issue. And this time it has happened more than we would like. But we did it,” Gloss told ABC News.

Fallous said being safe and telling staff to stay home if they were feeling unwell had a big economic impact on his small business.

“We always have to plan for extra staff in case one or two of the staff don’t come to work or feel good… which can be costly for a small restaurant,” Fallous said.

By not planning for additional staff, Fallous would risk losing customers.

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

Fallous said business had been very “inconsistent” in recent weeks. On days when the caseload is high, the restaurant sees a lot of cancellations. When the number of cases is not as high, he said Au Za’atar receives a lot of reservations.

“They don’t behave like maybe a month ago,” Fallous said. “I see a lot of people asking to sit in the outside space where it’s not covered.”

Fallous also saw more customers ordering take out or delivery.

“I see the increase in take-out sales and company deliveries, much more now than before during the pandemic,” Fallous said.

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

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

Gloss was surprised at the quality of his bookstore during the holiday season, even compared to before the pandemic. But, he has noticed a slowdown in business in recent days. Gloss said the omicron variant appeared so quickly that people were just starting to respond to the increased number of cases.

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

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

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

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the company to source, and suppliers often place limits on the number of products Au Za’atar can buy, 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.

About Jonathan Bell

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