Minority-owned companies in San Jose face distinctive challenges as they proceed to shut

It’s been six months since Liz Ruiz saw families walking on the floor of the Aloha Roller Rink.

The East San Jose-based business owner has watched other businesses reopen across the city with no idea of ​​when she might be able to do the same, pay her employees, or welcome customers again.

Ruiz had occupied her place at the Eastridge Center in San Jose for about two years and prides itself on being one of the few runways in the area.

“It’s a type of activity that spans all generations,” said Ruiz. “A lot of parents grew up skating as kids and look forward to bringing their kids because it’s nostalgic for them.”

East San Jose businesses, especially women and minority owned businesses, are facing increasing challenges due to the continued shutdowns caused by COVID-19. The Eastridge Center, a mainstay on the east side of the city, has been particularly hard hit.

“We are a community center. The east side of San Jose is a tight community, ”said Brian Fremgren, leasing manager at Eastridge. He said the center offers unique services like the runway and a cat café unlike a typical mall. “We are an integral part of the community.”

Only around three quarters of the around 105 shops in the center are open with limited capacity.

Ruiz’s runway has been relegated to the yellow stage of the reopening in California, meaning Santa Clara County as a whole must be at low risk of completing COVID-19 in order to reopen.

To get into this category, the county must have less than one new daily case per 100,000 residents and a positive test rate of 2%. As of now, the county is still in the red, with the virus still posing a significant threat, according to the state.

Who is most at risk

Of course, East San Jose businesses don’t suffer alone. According to a new business study by Yelp, San Jose had the fifth largest permanent closings per 1,000 businesses in the US since March 1, after San Diego and Las Vegas.

Yelp recently added a feature that allows users to search for Latinx-owned companies.

According to the report, metropolitan areas with higher rents have felt the effects of the virus more. In addition, companies that rely on their physical location and need a large number of customers in that location struggle to stay afloat.

“The county needs to do more to provide financial aid to businesses,” said Eddie Truong, director of government and community relations for the Silicon Valley Organization. “We see this in real time every day. Small businesses close. “

Truong said the county did not have enough proactive plans in place to help minority and women-owned companies like Ruiz’s runway.

“We’re seeing the decline of restaurants and other minority-owned businesses,” said Truong. “They were already underfunded before COVID-19. This is only the tip of the iceberg unless the county takes action immediately. “

Dennis King, director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Silicon Valley, said it was more at risk.

“The typical businesses owned and operated by ethnic minorities in this county are, of course, restaurants. And often they’re more than a business, ”said King. “They reflect the communities we serve. It adds a lot to vitality and they are a neighborhood watering hole where people gather. “

If the people of these places can’t come together, King said, “The nature of our lifestyle and the county will change.”

According to research by the Pew Research Center, around 60% of Latinos reported in May that someone in their household had either lost a job or suffered a wage cut, or both, due to COVID-19.

The majority of Latinos polled by Pew, about 78%, said another economic relief bill would be needed in addition to the $ 2 trillion package passed in March.

Language barriers

In the beginning, Ruiz said, she thought it would only be closed for a few months. She improved her place on the ice rink and even built a mini golf course for customers. It was a chance for her to catch up on projects that she wanted to work on, she said.

“This type of flip-flop (reopening plans) is very difficult for a business owner,” said Ruiz. “Especially when we invest so much money just to open up for a few days or weeks and just shut down again.”

Ruiz drew up plans to open at half capacity, set up an online reservation system and met sanitary requirements for the reopening. But that time has not come.

Ruiz said she was frustrated with the state government when it switched to color-coded tiers, each with different types of businesses.

“It was difficult to get them to tell me where I was, where I fit,” said Ruiz. “Was I athletics, family entertainment, entertainment? You didn’t know. “

Ruiz called the state for clarification every day until she got a response. While she said the county has done its part in disseminating information, the county is state-oriented. “And if the state says roller skating is in the yellow category, there is nothing I can do,” she added.

While navigating so far, Ruiz has seen other business owners, especially those who are not fluent in English.

“I spoke to a nail salon owner and she was confused,” said Ruiz. “She didn’t speak much English and she didn’t know what county she was in. She had tried calling the town (if she could open it) and I had to tell her it was the county that made the decision.”

Ruiz said she took the woman’s phone and opened links for business loans that she could apply for.

“She was so scared and didn’t know how to find the resources,” said Ruiz.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese

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