As small businesses along the Peninsula shutter in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Linda Mendenhall, the owner of Old World Designs in downtown Menlo Park, is doing everything she can to adapt to the new world of digital business the pandemic is ushering in.
The brick-and-mortar needlepoint shop on Santa Cruz Avenue is staying afloat for now by opening new doors for customers via online and virtual access.
"I will tell you that I'm doing everything I can to keep my doors open and be successful. By successful I don't mean that I'm making tons of money, but I'm maintaining that community we've developed over the years," she said.
"We've developed a fabulous community of needlepointers," she said.
The shop is not open to customers, but Mendenhall said that she's been, by herself, fielding website, email and phone requests from customers in the shop, and lining up materials for shipping. She's sending out daily email newsletters to her customers; lining up Zoom classes, both private sessions and group lessons; and hosting video-conferenced "stitch-ins."
Virtual "stitch-ins" aren't an exact replacement for what happens when the shop's clientele used to come into the store, sit at the table and talk while they work on needlepoint projects together, but so far the video conferenced needlepoint sessions have been very popular, she said.
During a period of government-imposed time at home , there may not be a better opportunity to get into a new crafting art. Beginners, Mendenhall said, can sign up for the business' online classes, access tutorials on YouTube or leave her a note if they place an order for shipping through her website, and she'll provide a free set of instructions.
But despite all the new initiatives, she said, most of her business has traditionally relied on walk-in customers, and needlepoint canvases and supplies are decidedly visual products that can be hard to sell online. She's hoping the business will make it to its 30th birthday in January.
She says she's not alone in facing what feel like steep odds against small businesses right now.
The hardest thing for everyone – and especially small businesses struggling to keep their doors open – is that nobody yet knows how long the pandemic, and the economically-crippling public health protocols in place to stop its spread, will last, according to Fran Dehn, president and CEO of Menlo Park's Chamber of Commerce and Rosanne Foust, president of SAMCEDA, the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.
Businesses across Menlo Park have gotten creative and made rapid changes to meet the health needs of the community and remain open, Dehn said.
Businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies, deemed "essential" and permitted to remain open during the shelter-in-place order, are doing what they can to protect customers and employees, such as providing seniors-only hours and restricting hours to minimize exposure, she said.
And many restaurants remain open for takeout and delivery. Access our list here.
Kepler's Books is closed but will continue to deliver online orders.
Alkalign, a fitness studio on Alameda de las Pulgas in West Menlo Park, devised a plan to switch all classes online in about 24 hours, said founder Erin Paruszewski. The studio has been offering about five to six live-streamed classes a day for about three weeks, she said. Because the classes are virtual, attendance in some has been boosted by the ability of locals to invite friends or family members who may live elsewhere to join in. Other Alkalign studios in Irvine and Grand Rapids are contributing videos to expand the hours during which live-streaming is available, she said. It also helps that the exercises don't require much equipment – in many cases, just one's body – or space.
"But, you know, there's nothing that really replaces real, authentic, human connections," Paruszewski said.
"Right now, people are being supportive and patient. We worry how long that will last," she said, but said that could change as more clients may become economically impacted. "We're certainly worried about the longer-term impact this is going to have. This is not a two-week thing. This is a several-month thing."
But many other local businesses have had to shut down entirely for the time being. That includes small businesses like the Refuge restaurant, which announced it had laid off all 70 employees at its Menlo Park and San Carlos locations, as well as larger businesses like the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel.
The owners of the Refuge have launched a GoFundMe campaign aimed at supporting their employees struggling to make ends meet. It's raised nearly $10,000 so far.
Resources for small businesses
SAMCEDA, for its part, has been busy at work figuring out how to help businesses of all sizes hit by the coronavirus-related shutdowns. It has released a two-page action plan to help businesses develop continuity strategies.
"We know that not every business is going to survive this," Foust said. "As an economic development professional, that makes me really sad."
These are the questions SAMCEDA suggests all businesses struggling at this time ask themselves as they're brainstorming ways to stay afloat:
● Have you reviewed revenue and expenses and cut everything non-essential today to survive the next 30-60-90 days?
● Can you take your business online, offer take-out/delivery, provide consulting services or online classes via video conferencing?
● Are you equipped to take online payments through companies like Stripe or Paypal?
● Have you contacted your landlord or your mortgage lender to determine your options to defer payments or make partial payments until after the shutdown order is lifted?
● Have you contacted your accountant and/or business attorney to discuss how to help your employees through continued payroll or unemployment benefits?
● Have you contacted your bank/financial institution to see what they are offering: business line of credit, short term loans, etc.?
● Have you discussed with your vendors and suppliers deferring payments or making partial payments?
● Have you looked at what your utility and communication service providers are offering?
● Have you carefully reviewed local resources to determine what federal and state programs are available to you?
Key among those is the last question, said Foust, because the opening date for small businesses to apply for the federally-funded Paycheck Protection Program is Friday, April 3. The application period for independent contractors opens the following week on April 10.
She's urging eligible small businesses to submit their applications as soon as possible, since it's likely the need will outpace the supply of funding.
Small businesses are, in this case, defined as ones with fewer than 500 employees, and include 501(c)(3) nonprofits and veteran organizations.
The payroll protection loan funds can be spent on uses intended to keep workers employed: payroll costs, payments for vacation, family or sick leave, group health care benefits; and loan proceeds may be also be put toward rent, utilities or interest on mortgage or debt obligations. The maximum amount of the loan is up to two and a half times the business's average monthly payroll cost over the prior year, up to $10 million, and it doesn't require a personal guarantee or collateral. All or a portion of the loan may be forgiven, she added.
Access more information about the program from the U.S. Small Business Administration here.
Beyond federal help, San Mateo County is also dedicating resources to help small businesses.
The county Board of Supervisors on March 24 created the San Mateo County Strong Fund, aimed at support small businesses, struggling individuals and families and nonprofit within the county.
The board has so far put $3 million toward the fund from its Measure K fund, the county's half-cent sales tax. The fund, managed by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, is seeking additional donations from the county. People can decide which of the three categories – individuals/families, businesses or nonprofits – they want their donation to support, or support all three.
It's still being decided how the funds set aside for small businesses will be distributed, but it will be up to the county Board of Supervisors. Foust said that SAMCEDA is working with the county to develop an application and a process for fairly distributing those funds and preventing fraud.