Long Beach business owners, employees and residents rallied together at the 2ND & PCH shopping center, in the southeastern portion of the city, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, to challenge the recent tightening of business restrictions intended to slow a second surge of the coronavirus, arguing the health orders harm local companies.
The organizers of the “March to Save Small Businesses” — Ryan Choura, owner of Choura Events, and Trent Bryson, CEO of Bryson Financial — said the point of the nonpartisan march was to seek accountability from city officials over coronavirus safety orders that impact local businesses.
“The evidence doesn’t support these closures,” Choura said. “It’s time our elected leaders explain why we have to close down again.”
Around 300 protestors gathered at the shopping center late in the afternoon and made their way through Naples and Belmont Shore waving signs while employees and owners along Second Street stood outside their stores waving in support.
Long Beach, which has its own health department, has typically aligned its orders with similar ones from Los Angeles County. The city banned in-person dining last week, much to the dismay of the Long Beach Restaurant Association.
The city again fell in line with the county Tuesday, Dec. 1, announcing a ban on all gatherings except for protests and religious services. The updated health order went into effect Wednesday.
Health officials, at both the city and county, have said in-person dining has been singled out because it is considered one of the riskiest activities.
“It is the one space of any business that is allowed to be open where people do not wear their face coverings, so it is considered one of the most risky of the environments,” Kelly Colopy, Long Beach’s Health and Human Services director, said last week. “People sit together, and although it’s (limited to) tables of six, many of those people are not from the same household.
The decision came in response to the increasing daily average of new coronavirus cases, which has climbed 313%, from 40 to 190, over the past month, as of Tuesday.
“We’ve had nine months with our elected officials to work together to develop contingency plans in the event that we would have to shutdown this large industry,” Michael Neufeld, owner of Gaslamp restaurant, said in a press conference last week.
Financial relief, though, could be on its way, with Mayor Robert Garcia announcing Monday, Nov. 30, a proposal for a $5 million “resiliency fund” for restaurants, breweries and bars in Long Beach that have been forced to close in-person dining because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council will consider the idea at its meeting next week. If approved, the fund would start with $5 million and could be increased depending on need and available federal stimulus money.
But some at Wednesday’s protest said that’s not enough.
“Sure, you can pass a relief fund,” Bryson said. “But when it comes down to it, we, the owners, know best how to manage our money and what we need to stay afloat. This relief fund will only do so much.”
Garcia, for his part, said he understood the impact the closures have had on workers.
“I spent four years waiting tables at local restaurants as a student at CSULB,” he said in a Monday statement. “That job got me through college, and I know how painful and devastating these closures have been for our restaurants and bars.
“These small business owners are our neighbors and friends and we know that these closures have been horrific,” he added. “As we work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 we are committed to helping them see this pandemic through and recover.”
LBRA representatives — who were not affiliated with the march — plan to present a formal request asking the city and its Health Department to reverse a ban on in-person dining during a public study session the city will host on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
“We’re out here today for our servers, our hostesses and our bartenders,” said Cirian Gough, owner of The 908 restaurant. “It’s time we open back up and let these people come to work.”