Facing coronavirus in South Pasadena

Story by Amber Chen
Staff Writer

Illustration by Alicia Zhang
Staff Illustrator

Responses have been edited for clarity.

Repercussions of the social distancing measures put in place to combat the coronavirus have taken a significant toll on people nationwide. Airlines have shut down, conferences have been cancelled, and many businesses have been forced to close their doors. At the same time, grocery stores are being overrun and medical professionals are increasingly overwhelmed.

Like many other businesses across the nation and world, South Pasadena restaurants are only open for take-out and delivery orders. Most other “non-essential” businesses have closed, creating the potential to severely affect the livelihood of the staff and owners of those shops. Read stories from 12 South Pasadena residents describing how the outbreak is reshaping their lives.

[Find out what local shops are still open with the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce’s website.]

Anonymous (Former Employee, Handle) “I was working at Handle in South Pasadena, which is a very small business. My boss, the owner, simply said that she doesn’t need me any more and now I’m stuck at home. I recently lost a job previous to this. I’ve been at Handle for one year. It is hard to get a job and keep it when you’re close to retirement age. Everyone wants temporary work now and it is unfortunate. Here I am stuck at home (Golden Oaks) which is just one block away. It is depressing — I’m low on funds and it is getting harder and harder to afford my pills.”

Anonymous (Physician, University Hospital) “I have a colleague, and both her and her husband are doctors and they have two small kids. Their daycare closed, so they tried to recruit a nanny to take care of their kids. But the nannies don’t want to come to their house because both parents are doctors and doctors are at higher risk of catching the virus.

“Our healthcare professionals are working very hard. They’re trying to fight the virus and take care of patients, but their families aren’t being taken care of at all. They can’t see their kids, take care of their kids, they can’t work from home, and they can’t even find nannies.”

Bill Disselhorst (Owner, Fiore Market Cafe) “I don’t want to let my employees go. I don’t want them to live with the uncertainty of how they are going to pay their bills. I want to keep paying them as long as possible. I need help. My business is off about 40 percent. As of now, I am operating with reduced hours and a somewhat limited menu.

“The problem with this crisis is that the individuals who earn the least are being laid off. The billionaires are losing money but they are billionaires. They still go home to a nice warm house and have money in the bank. It gives me the security to know I can meet two more payrolls with the GoFundMe campaign. The problem with the situation is four weeks from now. The people who have been laid off will feel it in about a month.”

Fiore’s GoFundMe campaign has raised $17,345 from 269 donors of a $40,000 goal.

Janey Odell Cutting (Home Organizer, Self-employed) — “Due to the stay at home order and clients being elderly, I can’t go to their homes to work. I can’t take on new clients. It is not a work from home job. It is a work in your home job. Plus, I have an underlying condition that puts me at more risk of contracting the coronavirus. This is financially a disaster for me! I’m okay for the moment, but if this lasts more than a month I could be in trouble.”

Anonymous (Flight Attendant, LAX/United Airlines) “I am a 21-year seniority flight attendant with United Airlines out of work temporarily due to the reduction of flights. I am not being paid right now. I took a voluntary leave of absence for March because I didn’t want to put my family at risk by me being out there in a germ filled environment — the airplane — and bringing anything home. For April, United has asked employees who have flexibility to take unpaid time off. If not enough people take this leave, they will be forced to furlough employees.

“I’m hoping I have a job to go back to when things get better. My family relies on my employment for medical insurance. If I take a company offered leave I maintain my benefits, I have to pay for them since I’m not getting it deducted from my paycheck. If I get involuntary furlough then I am no longer employed and I will need to get medical insurance on my own. That is a real concern for me as my husband is self-employed.

“I’m married with two middle schoolers. My husband is still working — I’m grateful for that.  He is in wholesale distribution so he is still working. Unfortunately, business has severely slowed down so he had to go down to the bare minimum number of employees in order to survive. My kids are enjoying more family time together, me being home more and their dad not working so late.”

Anonymous (Graphic Designer) “I am a graphic designer who creates presentations for marketing and advertising purposes, and also graphics for live events such as sales conferences, auto shows, etc. When news of the virus first broke in December/January, I was already booked for work through May, with various clients and various capacities. Most of those gigs were for live events.

“The first one to cancel was for a major tech company’s global leadership summit. The canceling of the summit made the news as it was the first of its kind to make such a decision. I was one of the designers assigned to creating on-stage graphics to support the company’s executive speakers. The event was supposed to take place in March but I was let go in February. It’s been a domino effect since then: an auto show in New York, an annual Disney licensing show, and another for an entertainment client.

“My remaining clients, who usually keep me very busy, have also had no need for my services since they’re not doing any in-person pitches or presentations at the moment. It’s bleak. My husband and I, both freelancers and very successful, are worried about how the next few months are going to look and are hustling as much as we can for extra work. But because we’re not salaried, we don’t have any income to rely on. We have a small reserve of savings that we hope will last until things look up again, but it’s scary. We’re thankful that we’re healthy and have a good attitude, but we are definitely concerned about the next few months.”

Ed Donnelly (Owner, The Barber’s Basement Recording Studio) “I am a music producer and audio engineer and I have a recording studio in Highland Park. Making music means being in fairly close contact with the folks that are playing and recording it. We breathe, we sweat, we swap instruments, we lean in to pull emotional energy from each other, eye contact is essential, physical contact is common.

“I had a full slate of projects booked for March and April, scheduled to be in the studio five to six days a week for anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. All of that has evaporated. For now it is postponed until it makes sense for several people to be in a relatively small room together. I know some of that work will come back around when we all feel safe to breathe the same air, but I also know some of it is gone forever.

“Sure, technology allows for some work to be done remotely but in my experience it cannot create art with the same emotional impact as people interacting with each other in a very direct way. Financially, it’s challenging. It’s one thing for a couple of weeks of lockdown. But if we’re looking at six months that’s going to be a big challenge.”

Lauren Jones (Jones Coffee Roasters) — “Last week, we moved to take out only because that was when Los Angeles said that they wanted all non-essential restaurants to close. No one was coming in anyway and our sales are doing really poorly. The biggest thing for family and small businesses to figure out is how to pay their employees. A lot of these employees need the money so they can pay their rent and bills. We need to pay them, but we don’t have money incoming. Our online orders are doing well, so that’s kind of the only way we can continue other than takeout.

“One of the most annoying things I’ve seen people doing is posting ‘Should I order Taco Bell? Should I order McDonalds?’ And I’m like, ‘Order from a family business!’ Those organizations are going to last far past this coronavirus situation, but not necessarily families like us. If you’re going to order, you might as well be giving your money to people that need it. This is our entire livelihood.”

Michelle Hammond (Owner, Munch Company) “Business has slowed tremendously. The main reason we’re open is because my staff needs to be paid. I’m not making profit right now, I’m just trying to pay my staff. I’m still able to be open, but if a mandate comes in that forces us to close, we’re going to be in the same situation as a lot of businesses: Will we be able to come back?

“We live in a great town that has so much support for small businesses and all the businesses support one another. The community has really made extra effort to still order. We are also trying to think of ways to bundle with other businesses to offer a way for the community to support their favorite places that have closed without them having to deliver as much out and about town. Besides gift cards, some of our customers have paid in advance for sandwiches in the future. This is the time businesses need cash flow.”

Anonymous (Physician, Public Hospital) “There’s a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment, which include things like gowns and masks. And you are at higher risk working at a hospital. The concern that we have is that there is always a chance to bring the illness to your family so you have to try to minimize that the best as you can or make arrangements to be quarantined from your family.

Unfortunately, when the CDC came out with their guidelines for what kind of personal equipment to wear, they did it not based on how the virus is transmitted, but based more on what was available — not necessarily on what is safe. They initially said you have to use an N95 mask, which filters out 95 percent of particles. But they changed it to say just a surgical mask, which is not the same as an N95. So that’s not ideal. If anybody has masks or medical equipment, donate to your local emergency room. People need to stay home and practice social distancing. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to do it.”

Chris Brewster (Employee, Trader Joe’s) — “The panic surrounding the coronavirus has had a huge impact on the general ‘flow’ of Trader Joe’s. The store has always been busy, especially on Sundays, however, shortly after President Trump’s address to the nation, people came pouring into the store religiously.

“All the toilet paper is typically gone in the first few hours the store is open and the lines are ridiculous. A week or so after Trump’s address, things started to cool down a bit. Sure there were still long lines and an infuriating fixation on toilet paper, but it wasn’t as suffocating. Although things are less busy, people are still scared.

“We have had to change the store times to have more time for restocking and employees have to disinfect every cart and basket given to customers. Not only that, we are only allowing a certain number of customers into the store at once. There is almost always a line outside the store since we are only letting people in five at a time with a max of 25 people in the store at once. People were trying to steal our cleaning items, too.”

Anonymous (Employee, Teamorrow) “Teamorrow had to temporarily close for two weeks, which has impacted my source of income along with that of my fellow coworkers. However the duration of the coronavirus pandemic could lengthen the closure if the government deems that a fully operating restaurant could continue to spread the disease. It is deeply concerning, and I wonder if I will be able to keep my job in the foreseeable future.”

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