Connie Herrera closed the doors to La Pantera at the start of the pandemic six months ago.
La Pantera, which sits on Franklin Boulevard, a street in South Sacramento known for its Latino-owned businesses, used to be a music and dance club, a dream space opened by her and her husband in the early ‘90s after her husband Ramon Herrera retired from working for the county. She said their vision was a gathering place for locals — a majority Latino crowd.
“He retired and he wanted to do something for himself, for ourselves, and his thought was to go ahead and get a family arcade, a snack bar for families to come in after work,” Herrera said. Her husband passed away 10 years ago, but Herrera and her sons have kept the business going. “We’ve been very successful. It’s now a Latin club, we do cater to everyone. We’re, like, the most popular, I would say, club on the boulevard.”
But in March, Herrera was forced to shutter the business for what she thought was just going to be a few weeks. But the closure has quickly stretched into months.
Now she fears for the future of her business, and she’s not alone.
A new report on the impact of COVID-19 on local Sacramento businesses highlights their continued struggle as the pandemic enters its sixth month. For businesses like Herrera’s — minority-owned small businesses mostly serving people of color — the difficulties navigating the pandemic are amplified.
“Lots of customers, I see them down the boulevard all the time, and they always ask me ‘When are you going to open? How come you don’t open? How come you don’t put tables out?’” Herrera explained.
Her response to the community echoes the concerns from public health officials who have struggled to find ways mitigating COVID-19 spread in communities of color.
“Because you guys don’t want to just come over there and eat tacos. I could see you guys turning on the radio and wanting to start dancing in the parking lot. I can’t have that,” Herrera said.
To offset the lack of customers, Herrera said she was able to secure some money through the federal Payroll Protection Program, but it was only enough money to cover her rent for a month. For the other months, she said her landlord has been understanding.
Her struggles are similar to those of other Sacramento business owners.
In the city auditor’s report, which was a follow up to one done earlier in the pandemic, over a third of businesses surveyed reported that they felt that it would take their business a year or more to recover. The older study in April reported that only 22% of businesses believed it would take them a year or more to recover.
Most business owners surveyed say they now believe recovery would be slow. Just 10% of businesses believe they can recover within three months, as opposed to over a third of businesses who felt this way earlier in the pandemic.
“There is more need than resources to try to weather the impact of the pandemic, many of them are seeking assistance, but obviously this challenge is ongoing and has been more prolonged than many anticipated,” city auditor Jorge Oseguera said.
The survey includes responses from 127 businesses that were able to send in responses online, with the majority coming from white business-owners in the central city. But Kendra Macias Reed of the Franklin Boulevard Business District said that minority-owned businesses not located in midtown or downtown are feeling the crunch even more.
For businesses in her area, she says many are on the brink of closure.
“Our community is 48% Latino, two-thirds of the community are renters, it’s historically a port of entry for Latino immigrants,” Reed said.
Latino business owners are a group that was disproportionately underrepresented even in the city’s last round of small business loans.
Of the nearly 1,400 small businesses that received loans in the last round of funding, just 11% were Latino-owned businesses. Advocates say this number was an improvement from the city’s first round of loans, which mostly went to businesses located in the central city.
But it could be better, Reed said.
“One of the things that really needs to happen is we need to walk door to door, we need to walk through every business, identify what they need and walk them through that process,” Reed said. She added that she has done this with some businesses, but the Franklin Boulevard Business District is run by just two people. “Some of these businesses are cash only operators, some of them don’t have the computer literacy skills.”
Reed said that for many of the restaurants in her district, the majority are still operating at just a quarter of the sales they usually make, because they’re still relying solely on take-out and many don’t have the space to expand their business outside.
Nonetheless, she said she isn’t worried about the pandemic decimating the predominantly Latino-owned district.
“We’re a large minority community, I think that historically, that is an asset,” Reed said. “Although a lot of them are suffering or not operating at full capacity, they have a strong entrepreneurial spirit.”
In the meantime many businesses in the area may close for good, and Connie Herrera is worried that La Pantera may soon be one of them.
“I’m very proud of our business, this is why it hurts,” Herrera said. “If I had a headache, of a business, I would probably say, ‘Well, heck with it.’ But it is a very good business, it’s something that we enjoyed and it’s something my husband really enjoyed doing.”
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