"It's been so hard," said Eun-Joo Chang, owner of Rumble Fish in Mountain View when asked how business has been over the last couple of weeks, as grim news about the spread of the new coronavirus has pummeled Santa Clara County.
To date, there are 45 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and one death reported by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
The new coronavirus has also begun to have a severe impact on local small businesses, said Peter Katz, president and CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce in a March 9 email.
"Smaller operations may be in danger of closing should the crisis go into months rather than weeks," he said.
At Rumble Fish, a sushi restaurant located at 357 Castro St., business has been sharply impacted by the news cycle surrounding the new coronavirus, Chang said.
On Feb. 28, the day that the Voice reported there was a patient with the new coronavirus being treated at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, 80% of the restaurant's reservations were canceled, she said. Business was oddly slow through that weekend, but later seemed to pick up to about 80% of its usual pace. Then last weekend, as information circulated about the quarantine of the Grand Princess cruise ship, numbers dwindled again. During lunchtime March 9, with the announcement of the first COVID-19-related death in Santa Clara County, "we literally had three tables (of customers), which is really terrible," she said. "We're suffering pretty substantially at this point."
Castro Street, usually bustling with local employees, "feels like a total ghost town ... I've never experienced anything like this," she said.
One counterpoint to the decline in business at the restaurant is that demand for Rumble Fish through delivery services like DoorDash or Uber Eats seems to be more stable, she said.
"People don't seem to mind ordering delivery, they're just really hesitant to come to the restaurant," she said.
As a business owner, she said she's been forced to contemplate her options, including cutting hours or even letting go of employees.
"We have to do something, because of our obligations to our landlords, employees and vendors," she said. "I'm just hoping this will go away soon ... but if this pattern continues, what other options do we have?"
Tamara Michel, an owner at Boutique 4, a clothing boutique on Castro Street, said that sales so far this month have been the worst in a decade.
"It's worse than when we had the recession," she said.
The shop had a flash sale on Sunday, which helped a little, she said, but the main problem has been the lack of foot traffic as local employees have been asked to work from home.
"Now, more than ever, it's important for people to support the downtown community or it could potentially go away very quickly," she said. "With the high cost of doing business here, you can't survive too long with no income and lot of expense."
South Bay Fusion, a nonprofit blues-fusion dance community that hosts weekly Thursday night dances at the Masonic Lodge in downtown Mountain View, has its own challenges related to the new coronavirus. The outbreak is forcing the group to make difficult choices, according to Bob Free, founder and primary organizer of the group.
The weekly events draw dancers from across the region, and this Thursday, the group is set to hold a special dance celebrating the organization's ninth anniversary. Yet dancing, like anything else that puts one in close proximity to others, presents an inherent risk during an infectious disease outbreak.
In response, Free has issued advisories on the group's Facebook page offering best practices to minimize the risk of spreading the new coronavirus. At Thursday's dance, people will be asked to pay by card, rather than cash, and are asked to consider a range of options to reduce the risk of spreading the virus; for instance, touching forearms instead of hands, washing one's hands between dances or simply dancing solo. He's also expecting turnout to be far lower and expects only a couple of dozen attendees compared to the 60 to 80 attendees the event typically draws.
But the venue has a fixed rent, and Free said this has triggered a larger discussion among event organizers about how to continue to pay for it as attendance declines. Going forward, he said, the group will be switching to a donor-based system, drawing on the support of community members who are able to provide financial support. Within about a day, he said, community members pledged more than $9,000, which will permit the group to pay rent for at least the next few months. They're looking to raise $30,000 to provide support through the end of the year.
"If we can get half that, at least that'll be six months," Free said. "We're hoping that the coronavirus will be controlled well before then."
Has your business been impacted by the new coronavirus? Share your story with reporter Kate Bradshaw know at [email protected]