Beloved local businesses near Oxy respond to the pandemic

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Julia Koh/The Occidental

Small, independent Eagle Rock and Highland Park businesses frequented and beloved by many Occidental students have recently struggled with reduced business and revenue. Delia’s and Scoops both have continued to operate since California and Los Angeles County’s “Safer At Home” orders shut down all non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus, while many others, such as Swork Coffee, have temporarily closed.

Delia’s, a family-owned Mexican diner located on York Boulevard, has remained open. Employees have continued to take orders in person from behind a protective plastic barrier, and customers are asked to wait for their food outside in order to maximize distance between each person. Mark Flores, manager of Delia’s and son of owners Adolfo and Delia, said that as a small business, taking these safety measures and staying open was a necessary decision in order to continue making money and paying expenses.

According to Flores, they have been aiming to maintain employees’ normal work hours as much as possible and lessen their financial hardship despite slower business. Flores said that although the business has struggled, he and his parents feel reassured by the regular customers who continue to support Delia’s.

“We have our stable customers who come in pretty much every day,” Flores said. “They’ve been coming in all the time since it all started, actively trying to support us — they know we’re a small, family-run place, so they make an effort to try and support us.”

Scoops owner Tai Kim has also made several changes to business. The York Boulevard ice cream shop now operates on reduced hours from 2–7 p.m. and only allows customers to take orders to-go. Kim said he also stopped offering tasting samples in order to minimize interactions and proximity with customers.

Kim offers discounts to encourage people to return, such as 50 percent off for customers who buy a second pint of ice cream. According to Kim, despite these changes and support from local residents who frequent the store, Scoops has seen at least a 60–70 percent drop in revenue from sales.

“In Highland Park and York Boulevard, a lot of businesses have been closed, so there is not much foot traffic. When the sun goes down, it becomes like a ghost town,” Kim said.

As a result, Kim has had to let go of a couple of employees.

“Once [business] gets back to normal, they can come back to work,” Kim said. “But at this moment, I have to count every penny.”

While Delia’s and Scoops have remained open, many Eagle Rock and Highland Park businesses have closed temporarily, including Swork Coffee on Colorado Boulevard. Owner and founder Patricia Vuagniaux said she decided to close business on March 20.

“It was a hard decision for me, because a lot of my customers really wanted us to stay open,” Vuagniaux said. “At the end, I realized a few of my staff members had to go back and take care of their folks and parents and whomever, and some of my employees were just scared.”

Vuagniaux said that she will be receiving a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help support her employees. According to Vuagniaux, before the PPP was established, she organized a GoFundMe crowdsourced fundraiser to help two of her employees financially in the first few weeks of Swork’s closure. Vuagniaux posted the GoFundMe page on Facebook and Instagram and raised about $900, primarily from customer donations. Vuagniaux said she aims to reopen once “Safer At Home” orders are lifted.

“We are taking the lead of community leaders right now,” Vuagniaux. “The landscape will be different because we will either have people who are desperate to get out of the house, or people that are a little scared to get out of the house. We may have limited hours to start with — just a small team — but we’ll be serving lattes soon enough.”

Flores and Kim both echoed a similar hope for business to eventually return to normal.

“It’s going to be a tough few months and probably for the rest of the year, as I’m sure there’s going to be a period of adjustment to get everything to what the new normal is going to be,” Flores said.

Vuagniaux, Flores and Kim all said that they have felt the absence of Occidental students in recent weeks.

“In the first few days, people would tell us that they were thankful that we’re open and they’re happy that we’re there. Really, we are a big part of the Oxy community, so it’s really nice knowing we have people who support us,” Flores said. “We hope to see everyone back soon, when we’re back to normal. We really enjoy [Occidental students]. It’s really nice to see everybody on the weekends — we really get to know [them] all four years that [they’re] there.”