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Donation page launched to help Mountain View businesses weather coronavirus crisis

Business owners say they're preparing for the long haul, even if it means borrowing money and cutting staff

In normal times, Hotel Strata on El Camino Real is packed during the week, sold out without a single room available. Now it's a ghost town with 100% vacancy, and it's not expected to get better for months.

The small, upscale boutique hotel has for years been serving a constant churn of tech workers visiting the area on business for tech titans like Google and Facebook. But when the companies told their staff to avoid travel and work from home, it meant a complete halt to the hotel's normally reliable clientele.

"It's completely bottomed out," said Dilip Patel, general manager of the hotel. "We rely on companies like Intuit and Google, and we've shut down completely. We're in a very dire, dire situation."

The hospitality industry isn't the only one feeling the pain, as businesses throughout Mountain View are reporting difficulty paying the bills, staying open and simply surviving as people stay home. The new coronavirus, which has rapidly spread throughout the Bay Area, has public health officials urging all residents to stay home and avoid person-to-person contact.

While some businesses have been required to shut down entirely, others that can stay open are trying to make do with varying levels of success. But with revenue down and plenty of ongoing costs -- rent, payroll and insurance premiums chief among them -- many are asking for help.

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The city of Mountain View announced this week that anyone interested in helping small businesses can now donate online. Any donations will add to a pool of $750,000 in funding earmarked to provide grants and loans, likely up to $10,000 per small business.

Peter Katz, CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, said the fundraising effort gives residents who want to help small businesses a way to provide "direct relief," and that the chamber applauds the city's leadership and action on helping vulnerable, local employers. He said the coronavirus and public health restrictions have forced many businesses to take drastic measures in order to weather months of economic hardship.

"Every aspect of your business is impacted by this," Katz said. "The rent, payroll, benefits, insurance -- every part is impacted, and some have found it's better to close their doors and wait it out. Some have to close permanently."

The most recent loss is Mountain View's longtime burger restaurant, Clarke's Charcoal Broiler. Clarke's announced this week that it was closing effective March 31 due to economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, ending its 75-year legacy in the city.

Patel said he is already borrowing money to make it through the complete loss of corporate business that has kept his hotel thriving for the last seven years, and this week he had to furlough front desk and cleaning staff. Patel said he's been in the hotel industry since 1973 and lived through plenty of recessions, but the coronavirus has had unprecedented effect on his business.

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"I have never seen anything like this at all, and the worst part is that it has affected every industry in the world," he said.

At this rate, Patel said he thinks he'll need a robust reserve fund to keep the hotel afloat for six or seven months, and even then he worries that business won't snap back to normalcy right away. Business will likely pick up "extremely" slowly as people remain wary of going outside over lingering concerns about contagion.

"I think we're in this for a long haul," he said. "It might pick up a little bit, but it won't be normal. I think that's going to be a year away."

Downtown Mountain View, in particular, has been hard hit by the forced closures and economic downturn, with dozens of restaurants and brick-and-mortar retail businesses temporarily shuttered through the rest of the month. Many storefronts have signs optimistically planning to reopen by April 8, the county's prior end date for closures that was recently extended to May 3.

It's been difficult seeing revenue decline when there are so many fixed costs, said Sarah Astles, owner of the Opal nightclub and president of the city's Central Business Association. Her business was forced to close on April 17 to follow the county's public health guidelines, yet she and others still have to pay for rent and employee salaries.

"When you're a small business owner, that falls on you personally," Astles said. "So it's a struggle to maintain all those fixed costs and not have all that revenue."

As a workaround, some businesses have been reaching out to customers and offering discounts for future services. Opal, for example, is giving people the chance to pay for private events now and schedule it later, like holiday party events starting in the fall. Astles said her worry isn't whether Opal will survive the downturn, but how much it'll cost to keep it afloat.

"I'm completely certain we're going nowhere," she said. "I just hope this turns around sooner or later because that's going to determine the debt I'm going to have to take on to keep it that way."

Just north of the Monta Loma neighborhood at Helming Auto Repair, the last few weeks have been "eerily quiet" for the auto repair shop. Co-owner Leane Reelfs said the shop staff and its customers are like a family, with third-generation customers and a lobby typically full of people stopping by just to say hello.

"There's none of that now," Reelfs said. Business is down about 10% to 20%, and she expects it's only going to get lighter over time.

Since the shelter in place, Reelfs said they've had to adjust to a far more cautious clientele, offering "no contact" services like paying online and allowing customers to drop off vehicles at night and before opening hours. It also means sanitizing and wiping down door handles, seat belts and other "high-touch" areas of the car during repair work.

As for the economic forecast, Reelfs said they should be okay. The company has a cash cushion, a line of credit and a good relationship with its banker. Along with the city's relief program, the federal government recently made available $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Javier Eredia, a business development consultant at U.S. Bank, said the bank has taken [usbank.com/covid-19 several steps to help struggling small businesses by waiving fees and reducing rates for loans and on-demand lines of credit. With the PPP launching and an anticipated wave of application requests coming, he said the bank is recommending business owners fill out an interest form ahead of time.

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Donation page launched to help Mountain View businesses weather coronavirus crisis

Business owners say they're preparing for the long haul, even if it means borrowing money and cutting staff

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Apr 2, 2020, 1:03 pm

In normal times, Hotel Strata on El Camino Real is packed during the week, sold out without a single room available. Now it's a ghost town with 100% vacancy, and it's not expected to get better for months.

The small, upscale boutique hotel has for years been serving a constant churn of tech workers visiting the area on business for tech titans like Google and Facebook. But when the companies told their staff to avoid travel and work from home, it meant a complete halt to the hotel's normally reliable clientele.

"It's completely bottomed out," said Dilip Patel, general manager of the hotel. "We rely on companies like Intuit and Google, and we've shut down completely. We're in a very dire, dire situation."

The hospitality industry isn't the only one feeling the pain, as businesses throughout Mountain View are reporting difficulty paying the bills, staying open and simply surviving as people stay home. The new coronavirus, which has rapidly spread throughout the Bay Area, has public health officials urging all residents to stay home and avoid person-to-person contact.

While some businesses have been required to shut down entirely, others that can stay open are trying to make do with varying levels of success. But with revenue down and plenty of ongoing costs -- rent, payroll and insurance premiums chief among them -- many are asking for help.

The city of Mountain View announced this week that anyone interested in helping small businesses can now donate online. Any donations will add to a pool of $750,000 in funding earmarked to provide grants and loans, likely up to $10,000 per small business.

Peter Katz, CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, said the fundraising effort gives residents who want to help small businesses a way to provide "direct relief," and that the chamber applauds the city's leadership and action on helping vulnerable, local employers. He said the coronavirus and public health restrictions have forced many businesses to take drastic measures in order to weather months of economic hardship.

"Every aspect of your business is impacted by this," Katz said. "The rent, payroll, benefits, insurance -- every part is impacted, and some have found it's better to close their doors and wait it out. Some have to close permanently."

The most recent loss is Mountain View's longtime burger restaurant, Clarke's Charcoal Broiler. Clarke's announced this week that it was closing effective March 31 due to economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, ending its 75-year legacy in the city.

Patel said he is already borrowing money to make it through the complete loss of corporate business that has kept his hotel thriving for the last seven years, and this week he had to furlough front desk and cleaning staff. Patel said he's been in the hotel industry since 1973 and lived through plenty of recessions, but the coronavirus has had unprecedented effect on his business.

"I have never seen anything like this at all, and the worst part is that it has affected every industry in the world," he said.

At this rate, Patel said he thinks he'll need a robust reserve fund to keep the hotel afloat for six or seven months, and even then he worries that business won't snap back to normalcy right away. Business will likely pick up "extremely" slowly as people remain wary of going outside over lingering concerns about contagion.

"I think we're in this for a long haul," he said. "It might pick up a little bit, but it won't be normal. I think that's going to be a year away."

Downtown Mountain View, in particular, has been hard hit by the forced closures and economic downturn, with dozens of restaurants and brick-and-mortar retail businesses temporarily shuttered through the rest of the month. Many storefronts have signs optimistically planning to reopen by April 8, the county's prior end date for closures that was recently extended to May 3.

It's been difficult seeing revenue decline when there are so many fixed costs, said Sarah Astles, owner of the Opal nightclub and president of the city's Central Business Association. Her business was forced to close on April 17 to follow the county's public health guidelines, yet she and others still have to pay for rent and employee salaries.

"When you're a small business owner, that falls on you personally," Astles said. "So it's a struggle to maintain all those fixed costs and not have all that revenue."

As a workaround, some businesses have been reaching out to customers and offering discounts for future services. Opal, for example, is giving people the chance to pay for private events now and schedule it later, like holiday party events starting in the fall. Astles said her worry isn't whether Opal will survive the downturn, but how much it'll cost to keep it afloat.

"I'm completely certain we're going nowhere," she said. "I just hope this turns around sooner or later because that's going to determine the debt I'm going to have to take on to keep it that way."

Just north of the Monta Loma neighborhood at Helming Auto Repair, the last few weeks have been "eerily quiet" for the auto repair shop. Co-owner Leane Reelfs said the shop staff and its customers are like a family, with third-generation customers and a lobby typically full of people stopping by just to say hello.

"There's none of that now," Reelfs said. Business is down about 10% to 20%, and she expects it's only going to get lighter over time.

Since the shelter in place, Reelfs said they've had to adjust to a far more cautious clientele, offering "no contact" services like paying online and allowing customers to drop off vehicles at night and before opening hours. It also means sanitizing and wiping down door handles, seat belts and other "high-touch" areas of the car during repair work.

As for the economic forecast, Reelfs said they should be okay. The company has a cash cushion, a line of credit and a good relationship with its banker. Along with the city's relief program, the federal government recently made available $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Javier Eredia, a business development consultant at U.S. Bank, said the bank has taken [usbank.com/covid-19 several steps to help struggling small businesses by waiving fees and reducing rates for loans and on-demand lines of credit. With the PPP launching and an anticipated wave of application requests coming, he said the bank is recommending business owners fill out an interest form ahead of time.

Comments

Mountain View Chamber of Commerce
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2020 at 3:50 pm
Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2020 at 3:50 pm
8 people like this

Thank you for highlighting the challenges facing so many of our local businesses. Please know that the Chamber is maintaining a list of essential business that are open - including restaurants, pharmacies, hardware stores and many others - on our website at chambermv.org. Please let us know if there are others that should be added.


The Business Man
Castro City
on Apr 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm
The Business Man, Castro City
on Apr 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm
9 people like this

[Post removed due to being in all-caps]


Clarkes? OH NO!
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2020 at 4:51 pm
Clarkes? OH NO!, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2020 at 4:51 pm
5 people like this

I had no idea Clarke's had closed. Anyone know if they owned the building? Is there a backstory here? Is the property being redeveloped or is it truly because of COVID19? Web Link


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Apr 2, 2020 at 10:12 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Apr 2, 2020 at 10:12 pm
8 people like this

The article reports that the Hotel Strata, for example, went from packed to empty and dumped employees (for now). Online, I see that the hotel charged $265 for a night (in one room) - and has 58 rooms. The business loan or gift program established by the city, you report, has a $10,000 limit. Hotel Strata made that much each night. The owner(s) must be rolling in dough. It is the "furloughed" employees that may need help. And by the way, hotels may yet make money from the government during the pandemic - to quarantine victims. In a few months, some victims will have died - but not this highly profitable hotel. Donations for Hotel Strata's owner(s)? Really?


The Business Man
Castro City
on Apr 2, 2020 at 10:55 pm
The Business Man, Castro City
on Apr 2, 2020 at 10:55 pm
4 people like this

Gary,

I know we have had disagreements, but your statement here I cannot argue with.

There is a lot of truth there.

Clark's Burgers was a single restaurant that could seat no mere than 50 people at a time indoors.

I would think they actually owned the building and land given the length of time they existed, unless predatory lenders took advantage of it.

This City needs a major reality check, the current situation is not going to improve for a long time. Imagine that as much as 2 million new people lost their jobs in this state in just 1 week?


Bored M
Cuesta Park
on Apr 3, 2020 at 12:59 am
Bored M, Cuesta Park
on Apr 3, 2020 at 12:59 am
20 people like this

This is insane? We are donating money to people who charge me for goods and services? And Hotel Strata is an example? Do they sponsor Pony League or Little League or YMCA basketball? Do they sponsor Thursday Night Live or schools? Maybe I'm wrong but if you aren't giving back when times are good then don't come around when you times are lean.


Cat C
Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2020 at 5:12 pm
Cat C, Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2020 at 5:12 pm
2 people like this

Has Hotel Strata considered cutting a deal with El Camino Hospital to provide closer housing for healthcare workers who live far away and also need to isolate from their families? Other area hotels seem to be working on agreements like with El Camino. That would be a way to do some good, put the staff back to work, and get paid to some extent (depending on what the negotiated price is).


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