By Haley Sawyer
South Pasadena Review
Two days before a three-week shutdown of restaurants, in accordance with county guidelines, customers flitted about South Pasadena’s Kaldi Coffee & Tea.
Some quickly grabbed drinks to go, while others stationed themselves at tables outside the shop, laptop in tow. Business continued at the popular coffee joint — which joins the park-like public library, historic school district office and modern apartment complex at a particularly illustrative intersection in town — albeit in a muted fashion thanks to mandate from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“We live in a fairly unique community in one of the largest megalopolises in the world,” observed Andrew Berk, the new chair of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, “and there’s still a sense of, you know, Americana here.”
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents have still been engaged with local small businesses and the Chamber of Commerce has been providing support to all forms of business around town. When the first stay-at-home orders were issued in March, the Chamber maintained open lines of communication with sometimes confused or frustrated business owners.
“Nobody understood what was happening. Nobody understood how it affected their business,” said Laurie Wheeler, president and CEO of the Chamber. “You hear on the news that you had to stay at home. Well, I get calls saying, ‘Does that mean me?’ Well, yeah. So it was the whole process of, I think, like any stage of grief, you know there’s different stages and at first a lot of it is denial.”
The Chamber hustled to gather all pertinent COVID-19 information and disperse it to members. They also had to manage the South Pasadena Farmers Market, which is run by the Chamber year-round.
With a new round of stay-at-home orders in effect, Wheeler and Berk feel that business owners and employees are more prepared for the strain from the county’s restrictions. But, they added, the struggle still exists to keep an income as well as keep staff employed.
“Just to run our households and figure out income and expenses and kids and significant others, just so much stuff going, on, and then to have a business on the side of that, which is a dream for a lot,” said Berk. “I mean, it’s just exhausting to go through this every day personally, and then have a business … you go through it.”
The latest restrictions will have perhaps the most impact on restaurants, so Wheeler and Berk encourage residents to order local take-out or delivery. They also note that it’s important to ask restaurants what their preferred method of delivery is, as food delivery apps like Grubhub can infringe on profits.
In addition to restaurants, local shops are in need of support as the holiday season rapidly approaches.
“Before a resident goes on Amazon or any of those other giants, see if they can’t find what they’re looking for in our town,” said Wheeler.
“That makes a huge difference,” added Berk. “Our community and our town doesn’t have a ginormous budget every year.”
In an effort to help sustain traffic for local businesses, the Chamber has launched advertising campaigns to encourage people to shop small this holiday season. They’re starting a “passport program,” in which shoppers get a punch card and receive a stamp every time they visit a local business. When the card has six stamps, it can be turned in to be entered into a prize drawing.
The Chamber will also continue to provide resources for businesses and help connect them to entities like the Small Business Development Center, Small Business Administration and Foothill Workforce Development Board.
“If we may not have the answers or we don’t have the expertise to give them specific information, we can certainly get them to places who can help them,” said Wheeler.
Volunteers are also welcome and feedback from businesses on what the Chamber can do to better help them is also appreciated.
In the face of a pandemic, the Chamber remains optimistic the businesses like Kaldi Coffee & Tea will be bustling once again and are in admiration of how South Pasadena businesses have adapted thus far.
“To open a business, you have to be creative and you have to be positive, and you have to be able to move with whatever happens,” Wheeler said. “You’ve got a whole bunch of people that that’s what they do, they move with whatever happens, so instead of just going, ‘Oh my God, I can’t be open,’ they’re figuring out ways to make it work for them. And that’s what’s exciting.”