Business owners’ lives have changed rapidly in the past three weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak across the country.
On March 11, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency, leading to schools closing, restaurants and hotel capacities being limited, restricting the number of people in social gatherings and beginning social-distancing practices.
On March 16, she amended the public health emergency order to restrict non-essential businesses more and required restaurants to be pick-up and delivery only.
On March 23, Lujan Grisham again tightened the order to shut down all non-essential business and require people to stay at home outside of errands necessary to health and welfare.
The Observer spoke to four business owners to hear what they are going through in these uncertain times.
It turns out, Turtle Mountain Brewing Company; Mom Dad Kids Barbershop; Rio Rancho Mail, Print & Ship and 4K Weightlifting are all navigating the COVID-19 business world in different ways.
Turtle Mountain Brewing Company
With restaurants being limited to take out and pick-up, Turtle Mountain owner Nico Ortiz has had to lay off 45 of his 60 employees.
“It is no fun telling 45 out of 60 people that basically your job has evaporated overnight,” he said. “It was tough to tell these people they are laid off, but it wasn’t due to their job performance; it was due to the governor saying we can’t operate the way we always have.”
Ortiz said some of them have been having trouble receiving unemployment.
The service industry relies on tips to make wages, Ortiz said. Without tips, there is no pay.
“I understand the governor’s response to this. It is better safe than sorry, even if the consequences have caused significant pain for the restaurants in the service industry with people now unemployed by the thousands,” he said. “It is going to lead to a wipeout in the industry. Restaurant (profit) margins are thin even in the good times.
“But there were a lot of restaurants barely hanging on when times were good, and now you’re telling them they are going to get rid of 70, 85, 90 percent of the revenue for two weeks, possibly a month.”
Turtle Mountain’s revenue is down 60-65 percent. Ortiz said he is pleasantly surprised by how well his to-go sales have been doing.
“I have been very heartened by our loyal clients, and our to-go sales have been twice as what I expected,” he said.
Turtle Mountain, in business in Rio Rancho for 21 years, is taking call-in orders at 994-9497 and partnering with mytown2go.com for deliveries.
Mom Dad Kids Barbershop
Navigating unemployment has been a challenge for Mom Dad Kids Barbershop co-owner Sinahy Clavel Jasso since the executive order shut down the business.
She, like her co-workers, operates independently within the shop. Barbers rent their booths at the shop, making them independent contractors.
Trying to get unemployment insurance with this status has been very difficult, Jasso said. She and the barbers have not received any income since March 17.
“Without any help from unemployment, most of my co-workers and I have been trying to apply to other jobs,” she said.
Jasso said she is not sure how the shop will be after this.
“Two weeks ago, the shop was completely busy, and to just shut down is incredibly devastating. Last week we had a meeting to talk about this whole situation,” she said. “We listened to what the barbers had to say, and they told us we were fine, with strict rules, that is, and now we are shut down. It is affecting us tremendously because there is no help.”
Rio Rancho Mail, Print & Ship
Navigating business resources has been just as difficult for Rio Rancho Mail, Print & Ship owner Curtis McCann, who opened his business in February.
McCann said being so new has prevented him from qualifying for relief loans.
“Since we are a new business, we were on an upward trajectory of doing pretty well for the month, and as soon as the governor spoke about putting some restriction in place, my business dropped about 50 percent,” he said. “And since she has put in the stay-at-home order, my business has dropped about 85 percent.”
McCann said one day in March he made a total of $4.
“I am pretty worried,” he said. “The reason I feel grim about this is because we are a new business and we really needed a customer base, but because we are so new, it is just not happening.”
McCann’s business is considered an essential business and remains open at 4300 Ridgecrest Drive, Suite L. He said he is regularly disinfecting the store, and it is safe for customers.
Owners Jenna Paulson and Mathew Erdman of 4K Weightlifting decided to close their doors on March 17.
“My husband, Matt, and I just kind of watched it progress through the country and decided that pretty much since schools closed, it would be best for us to do our part as well,” Paulson said. “It was a very hard decision to make; we thought about keeping it open at first because we knew that our members still needed a sense of normalcy in their lives.”
Paulson said she and her husband would feel terrible if a member got COVID-19 and it spread throughout the gym.
They sent most members home with equipment from the gym, she said.
“This way they can still do their programming and stay fit while we all adjust to what was going on,” Paulson said.
Coaching for members is being offered through Zoom to keep everyone motivated, she said.
“I know they are all thankful that we gave them equipment and that we are still here to guide them and help them in this trying time,” she said.
“I do, however, fear the impact on us paying our rent going forward. I’m trying not to dwell on it, but it’s looming in the back of my mind, and that is just creating more stress as well,” she said.
The gym’s revenues were down 50 percent in March, Paulson said. She and Erdman hadn’t been able to research any resources yet when she spoke to the Observer.
Paulson said anyone can join Zoom workouts on the Facebook page @4KWeightlifting.
Elsewhere in Rio Rancho
No single business situation is the same through the pandemic.
“This pandemic is impacting our economy at all levels,” said City of Rio Rancho spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia. “However, at this point, it is too early to tell exactly how much.”
She said several state and federal programs are being implemented for business owners and their employees.
“It will be paramount to ensure local businesses are informed of and educated on the potential programs to explore what may be a good fit for them, given their unique/different situations,” she said.
The city encourages people to support local business through this pandemic, Garcia said.
“In the meantime, it is imperative for people to adhere to the guidelines and directives issued by local, state and federal health officials to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” she said.