All nightclubs, bars, theaters and gyms will close throughout Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia announced Monday, March 16, in what local business leaders say will be a “large hit” to the city’s economy — a hit that could cost more than $100 million.
Restaurants, meanwhile, will need to move to offering only takeout and delivery, Garcia said.
“We will be putting out further information today as it relates to dining rules and moving toward a system that has been matched by the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles,” he said during a Monday afternoon press conference. “We’re trying to work with our LA County and LA City partners to have the same exact system in place.”
Garcia’s announcement came after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, March 15, urged all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs throughout the state to shut down amid the new coronavirus pandemic; he also said restaurants should reduce occupancy by half and instead focus their efforts on offering takeout and delivery.
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Monday local businesses have already been hit hard by the pandemic, and Garcia’s announcement will likely add to the burden. But, Goodling said, shutting down public spaces is in the best interest of the local economy in the long term.
“The risk of this highly contagious virus needs to be stopped,” Goodling said. “Many steps have already been taken, and it’s just — the sooner that these things can be under control, the sooner we can restart or reboot the economy.”
Goodling said he didn’t have a firm estimate of how much the closures of bars and the reduction of restaurant operations would cost the city. But he said overnight visitors in Long Beach’s tourism hotspots bring in about $1.2 billion annually — including the business they give to bars and restaurants.
“So divide that by 12,” he said, “and that gives you an idea of what this means.”
By that estimate, the lack of business from overnight visitors alone would be about $100 million if the closures lasted a month. And, Goodling noted, that’s only in the downtown and around the airport.
“Citywide, that’s a whole other story,” he said. “You have restaurants all over the city.”
Vivian Hernandez, a manager at Alex’s Bar on Anaheim Street, said the bar is closing at least through the end of March and had to lay off staff; Hernandez couldn’t pin down the exact number of those affected but said it was fewer than 20.
“Some of them were devastated,” she said. “They were just having a hard time making their rent the way it was, so we’re doing what we can do.”
Hernandez said the bar’s management is trying to identify tasks that will allow some staff to stay on board — maintenance, repainting the interior, sorting through old records.
“We’re going to try to keep some of them working with different projects as we can,” she said. “We’re trying to help them as we can, but we’ve encouraged them to apply for unemployment right away.”
While Hernandez said her team feels for the employees that are impacted, she’s still grateful that Alex’s Bar, which has been in business for 20 years, is in a better position to wait out the crisis than some newer businesses.
“The first few years are the hardest, but we should be fine for an extended amount of time,” Hernandez said. “All of our equipment is bought and paid for. It’s not the same as someone who just opened up.”
Goodling said that although restaurants are facing a “large hit” because of the news, customers can still support the restaurants that remain open through their takeout and delivery services.
“Many restaurants are adding to their offerings and getting very creative,” he said, “and are offering delivery and/or takeout, and that’s really wonderful in trying to keep our local restaurants hiring people and giving people jobs.”
But to truly help these businesses stay afloat throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Goodling said, they will need more assistance than consumers can likely provide at this time.
COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms associated with the respiratory disease, which appear two-to-14 days after exposure, include fever, a cough and shortness of breath. While most people — including healthy young adults — will experience mild symptoms, the disease can be severe and possibly fatal for at-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with other health problems.
Particularly when it comes to potential evictions if business dries up too much — a concern the Long Beach City Council will weigh at its Tuesday meeting — Goodling said the government should step in.
“I think that every government tool should be utilized to stop the clock on any type of eviction,” he said. “These are very difficult times these businesses were fine and were operating and were creating jobs.
“This is not because they were running a poor business,” Goodling added, “but this is beyond their control, and therefore, they do need assistance and should be getting assistance.”