MONTEREY COUNTY — Representatives from several area chambers of commerce spoke about how Monterey County businesses are dealing with the Covid-19 shutdowns during a Dec. 2 media briefing.
Monterey County has been tracking data about economic impacts, including the loss of more than 47,000 jobs countywide this year, according to a November report by the county’s Workforce Development Board.
Janet Bessemer, chamber manager for King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, spoke from a South Monterey County perspective, while Paul Farmer spoke on behalf of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce and Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Rick Aldinger spoke on behalf of Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.
They each had different takes on impacts and solutions, as the different regions within the county vary in the types of business and demographics.
“A majority of our businesses here in town are small boutique businesses,” Bessemer said. “Their businesses aren’t as affected as some of the bigger stores, but they’re down anywhere from 10% to 25%, depending on the store. Some are continuing fairly good business because they are Hispanic-owned and Hispanic-patronized as well.”
While stores in general had shown stronger resistance to the effects of state-imposed health orders, other businesses were having a tougher time. The WDB report said most of the 47,000 jobs lost were in the agricultural and leisure/hospitality sectors, which includes restaurants.
“Some of our restaurants are down at least 25%, if not 50%, and there’s a couple that may close,” Bessemer said. “Most of them are struggling to stay on. We’re encouraging all of our residents to go take-out. If you can’t eat out, then take-out. That’s the message we’re trying to give our residents. There has been sizable take-out business with the restaurants.”
In addition, Bessemer said the city itself has programs in place, such as grants, but business owners must contact city hall directly for that assistance.
The chamber has also noticed the personal and family needs going on in the community.
“We have a lot of charity fundraisers going on,” Bessemer said. “We have a lot of people asking for donations of stuffed animals for kids. We have parades and things like that going on, but they’re very low key this year, not like our usual activities.”
The chamber representatives reflected on the shutdowns and how they could possibly have been a deathblow to businesses.
The WDB tracked such threatened businesses through WARN notices, which are requirements for businesses with 50 or more employees to give advance notice if they may close and need mass layoffs.
In Monterey County, 221 businesses have filed WARN notices since March, with a potential impact to 9,845 employees.
“Earlier in the year when things first closed down in March, some of our businesses were really struggling,” Bessemer said. “Gradually they were able to reopen with restrictions. If we have to close down again, it could be very serious for many of our small mom and pops. I don’t know how long they can survive if they have to close for any period of time.”
The unemployment rate in Monterey County was 8.8% in September, down from a revised 8.9% in August and above the estimate of 3.5% for last year, according to WDB data. This compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 10.8% for California and 7.7% for the rest of the nation during the same period.
Adaptations to the new way of operating have been implemented, with varying success. Aldinger noted businesses in Big Sur overall aren’t set up for curbside or online service, for example.
“A number of our businesses have curbside pickup and the city has been very cooperative in that,” Bessemer added. “They have given these businesses posts to put out in front of their place on two or three parking spots that are for pick-up only, so they will have places people can drive in and pick up.”
However, like Big Sur, Bessemer noted King City’s businesses aren’t a natural fit for e-commerce, especially the small boutique shops.
Farmer noted he felt there were some rays of hope.
“The chambers have been working together much more closely than we regularly do,” Farmer said. “There are certain opportunities for collaboration.”
He said future meetings between area chambers would focus on how to help area businesses weather the economic storm.
Chris Donnelly, executive director for the WDB in Monterey County, said there was a second quarter 2020 rise in job postings by 232 total postings. He noted the jobs most in demand are in-person essential workers, security officers, delivery specialists, retail sales, food servers and personal care aides.
“A lot of businesses that are depending on people to do a lot of the work that are not really high-skilled jobs,” Donnelly said about the types of job postings the county observed. “A lot of the dentists and some of the medical clinics closed to Covid-19, they haven’t reopened. We’re still seeing professional and business services being impacted by Covid-19.”