COVID-19 has had a widespread impact on American society, and as our world slowly returns to normal, little remains unchanged. One of the most extreme effects the pandemic has had on our nation is on working people and small businesses. Before COVID-19, increased commercial vacancy rates already hailed a tumultuous time for Haight Street. The pandemic has led to arduous times for many markets, restaurants and stores close to the hearts of Urban students, which were already struggling to stay afloat.
Chloe (last name not given), an employee at Cantata Coffee Company, says that COVID-19 has completely altered life at the Cafe over the past year. “We had to close in March, and we were able to reopen in August,” she said. Interviews with several other Haight Street businesses revealed that most businesses shared this experience.
As a convenience store, Haight and Cole Liquors was among the few Haight street businesses which were able to stay open for the majority of the pandemic. However, COVID-19 still had an immense impact on the store. “Not a lot of people came in. It was hard, we lost a lot of money,” said Gabe Alfaro, a cashier at Haight and Cole Liquors.
Though Covid has brought times of great tenacity to Haight and Cole Liquors and Cantata Coffee, they were able to scrape by to survive the darkest days of the pandemic. Unfortunately, some locations weren’t as fortunate. Bladerunners, La Alcaran, Bazaar, Dolls Kill, and Gypsy boutique have had to permanently shutter their doors after an unforgiving lockdown.
Sadly, however, these 5 loved businesses don’t nearly represent the extent of the toll COVID-19 took on Haight Street. For businesses like Cantata Coffee and Haight and Cole Liquors that have had the opportunity to reopen, much of the impact of the pandemic has been on their individual employees.
“I have to support my family, so it’s hard,” Alfaro said. While stores were closed down during lockdown, many workers were forced to take unpaid leave. Additionally, as the revenue of certain stores has decreased, wages have been cut.
“I was laid off in March, and I kept looking for another job but I couldn’t find anything at all,” Chloe said. “I’m trying to pay for college, so it’s been pretty difficult.” Unfortunately, Chloe is far from alone in her struggles. 20.6 million Americans lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 3.6 million of those jobs have not returned. Both Chloe and Alfaro report that they have had to shorten their staff, and many workers who lost their jobs to the pandemic have not been able to make a return.
As more and more businesses start to open their doors, allowing inside dining, and saying goodbye to capacity limits, it is hard to forget that things have not fully returned to normal. Most stores and restaurants have not come close to reaching their pre-pandemic quarterly revenue goals.
“We’ve still just had significantly less people,” Chloe said. “We rely on tourists for a lot of our business, and obviously we don’t really get a lot.”
Alfaro said that he has experienced the same prolonged decrease in customers. “I still don’t think as many people came in as they did before,” Alfaro said. Haight Street is a long way from it’s pre-pandemic buzz, and the flock of tourists and locals on Friday afternoons has yet to make its return.
For Urban students who are looking for a cause to support, and a way to give back and help heal our post-pandemic country, the answer could be right in front of our eyes. Supporting small businesses on Haight can change lives, and by choosing to eat at a small coffee shop or restaurant instead of a chain, you could be unknowingly signing someone’s paycheck. “Anything helps,” says Alfaro, “We’d like to get as many customers as we can.”