By Collin Breaux | Email: cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Local businesses in San Juan Capistrano have been forced to reduce operations and turn to outside assistance during the upheaval brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Business activity has slowed down in San Juan Capistrano during the global health crisis. Photo: Collin Breaux

At a time when many people aren’t sure what comes next, small business owners in the South Orange County town are taking it a day at a time. Plaza Del Obispo, downtown and other parts of San Juan Capistrano continue to resemble a ghost town during the pandemic, with little pedestrian or vehicle traffic.

Lisa Smith, owner of Miracle-Ear, said they’re staying open as an essential business.

Miracle-Ear assists people with hearing loss and has locations throughout Southern California, including at Plaza Del Obispo. The company has had to furlough some employees, but it continues to assist patients, Smith said.

Miracle-Ear is staying open as an essential business but has seen a reduction in revenue. Photo: Collin Breaux

Their revenue stream has been reduced by about 70%, and some of their landlords have helped by agreeing to delay rent payments.

“It’s shocking,” Smith said. “Never in our life did we think we would see something like this.”

Customers have to wear masks and not display symptoms of COVID-19 when they come in, and physical distancing is maintained—common requirements now when venturing outside the home.

Smith immediately applied for several loans when the pandemic began, including for the Paycheck Protection Program, also known as PPP. Smith is waiting for PPP funding and has received $10,000 from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

Smith mentioned news reports of sports teams and big businesses receiving assistance.

“What about the small businesses?” Smith said. “The majority of the country is made up of small businesses. They’re the ones that take care of us.”

Though Smith noted businesses already struggling with sales may not make it, she believes things will ultimately turn out fine. Smith also said the economy needs to reopen.

Kyle Franson, owner of Rancho Capistrano Winery, which has locations in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, said both stores have been shut down as of March. While they had to lay off 65 employees, they have held onto a few employees, including the wine club manager.

The outdoor patio at Rancho Capistrano Winery in San Juan Capistrano is closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Collin Breaux

The wine club continues to do well.

“We’re still making rent payments,” Franson said.

Franson applied for and received PPP funding, and has also applied for the EIDL Advance. The EIDL money would be a “game changer” for the winery, he said.

Rancho Capistrano Winery has started curbside service, a pivot other places have made during the quarantine era.

“I have every reason to believe we will get through this,” Franson said.

His concerns going forward are determining when they can fully reopen, if people will show up when they do and what restrictions might surround future operations.

“Will I be limited to half the store being open?” Franson said, adding it can be hard to make a profit under those conditions.

An advantage the San Juan Capistrano location has is open space, meaning people aren’t clustered together. The San Clemente location, meanwhile, has more dense seating.

Franson said he’s not standing on the corner demanding things be reopened, and there are a certain number of people who may not venture out. However, he also said there is pent-up demand for services and at some point something has to be done about the economy.

Rob Quest owns several local businesses, including Sundried Tomato American Bistro in San Juan Capistrano, which has been offering curbside services.

“That has been going very well,” Quest said.

Quest is waiting to secure EIDL funding. Quest also filed for PPP and eventually secured those funds.

“If they can execute this, it will be the survival of restaurants,” Quest said. “We’re going to have to see how this will play out, but I’m sleeping a lot better now that I have received the funds.”

Quest said his operations are still limited, because he can’t open the inside of his restaurants to guests, and said additional workers can’t be hired while operations are minimal. Agencies intended to help businesses have not been able to handle the fallout from the economic shutdown, Quest said.

Quest declined to comment at length on how the government has handled the pandemic, but he did say California is being cautious, that shutting things down was the right call and that Orange County has done a good job handling the crisis.

Quest said he will ensure his restaurants are clean and that employees will return to a safe work environment.

For the long term, Quest is hopeful restaurants can partially reopen in the middle of May while adhering to physical distancing and mask requirements, though conceding he doesn’t know exactly what conditions will look like. He is hopeful a treatment drug can be developed.

Some people are also ready to get out in a safe way, with “pent-up demand,” Quest said. However, he did note people at any kind of risk will stay home.

Quest’s companies also do catering for lots of weddings and parties, though that has of course slowed down recently. They have one event coming up in June, and some in July and August. Some clients are wondering what their guest counts will be, and others are rescheduling events for next year.

“Hopefully by the end of the year, things will be good for weddings and parties,” Quest said.

Editor’s note: This information is subject to change in the evolving health crisis.

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