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May 26, 2020

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Small businesses in the US go all out to stay afloat

Small business owners across the United States, finding themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place, are struggling not to become the latest casualty in COVID-19’s march from sea to shining sea.

Some are shuttering their businesses, some are scrambling to repurpose themselves to try and tough it out, while other small business owners and employees are finding themselves having to choose between keeping their businesses healthy or themselves. While most people are safely sheltering in place during the pandemic, many workers, like at cleaning services, must still work outside the home to earn their daily bread.

“For us, the fear of having no money coming in can outweigh the fear of getting COVID-19,” said Gladys Hamil, manager of MurrMaids Residential Cleaning Service, a small, Hispanic-owned and staffed housecleaning service operating in Orange County, California.

Working in a pandemic that is already disproportionately infecting Hispanics according to Los Angeles County statistics can be a challenge. Cleaners have to keep working when their income takes a nosedive and government programs are slow to pick up the slack to help put food on the table for their families.

“Those of us who can stay at home do,” Hamil said in an interview. “But that’s not possible for everyone.”

Safety concerns

MurrMaids staff and their clients prioritize safety, despite the difficulties and added expense of COVID-19 protocols.

“We and our clients are super safety-conscious now, so our staff wear masks and gloves and maintain correct social distancing. Some clients are still nervous — especially those with small kids and elderly parents in the house,” Hamil said. “You need to be compassionate about people’s fears.” MurrMaids has already had cancellations that have brutalized its business and raised the worry of how to make ends meet for its hardworking staff.

“We used to clean four or more per day five days a week. Now we are down to less than half of that,” Hamil said. “That’s a real worry for everyone.”

Restaurants, from “white tablecloth” gourmet venues to mom-and-pop eateries, have been particularly hard hit. Rise N Shine Cafe in Shadow Hills, Los Angeles, a small business owned by the Ratz family and run by a mother-daughter team, Sharon and Melinda Ratz, is trying to come up with innovative ways to survive the lockdown and stay-in business.

“Our business dropped 50 percent and we went from dine-in to takeout pretty much overnight,” daughter Melinda said in an interview. “We are using the down time to renovate, prep for reopening, repainting and hanging partitions inside.”

The author is a Xinhua writer.


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