Local businesses are forced to adapt to COVID-19 safety regulations

Louise+Franz%E2%80%99s+restaurant+Pizzalina+in+the+Red+Hill+Shopping+Complex+in+San+Anselmo.

Henry Pratt

Louise Franz’s restaurant Pizzalina in the Red Hill Shopping Complex in San Anselmo.

Across the United States, thousands of small businesses closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 49 percent of small businesses in San Francisco were temporarily closed as of September and some of them may never reopen again. Despite COVID-19, some businesses, such as restaurants and gyms, are now allowed to partially reopen with safety precautions.

According to the U.S Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, small businesses are “the lifeblood of the U.S economy” and account for 44 percent of U.S economic activity. Though some small businesses have been able to reopen, they now operate at partial capacity and tirelessly create new business strategies to adapt to a new outlook for how business is done.

Louise Franz, the owner of Pizzalina in San Anselmo, said that she added many new safety precautions to ensure that her customers felt safe dining at her restaurant. Franz said that she had to try many different strategies to adapt to new ways of doing business. 

“We tried to do some family dinners, we tried to do some things that people could take home…if it didn’t work, we skipped it,” Franz said.

Clark Marckwordt’s gym, the Fairfax Health Club, at the Fair-Anselm Plaza. (Henry Pratt)

Franz also said that at the beginning of the pandemic, when Marin County shut down in-person dining on Mar. 13, Pizzalina had to transition from 20 to 50 percent takeout orders to 100 percent takeout and delivery. Franz said that Pizzalina continued using only takeout and delivery meals until Jun. 1, when Marin County allowed outdoor in-person dining.

“[In] March and April, our business numbers went down drastically. In fact, I couldn’t even pay my [business] rent…I lost 50 percent of my business,” Franz said. 

Clark Marckwordt, owner of Fairfax Health Club, also had significant problems at the beginning  of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, with tremendous uncertainty regarding whether his business would be allowed to open again.

“We were closed on the 17 of March, and [Marin County] gave us three separate dates where we were to reopen, and within 24 hours of the reopening process, they stopped it. It was a traumatic experience…it was a six month process,” Marckwordt said.

Marckwordt said that he invested thousands of dollars in his business so that he could comply with the county mandates. He also said that he had to enforce precautionary safety measures in his gym, but he has not had a problem enforcing rules such as social distancing and sanitizing equipment after use.

 “This place has been here long enough for people to have established a work ethic of practice of being here at the gym…my best employees are my clients because they enforce the rules because they have been working out here for decades,” Marckwordt said.

Marckwordt says that one of the aspects he loves about his business is that the customers that he served as a janitor when he was 19 years old in 1977,  prior to becoming the gym’s owner, are very loyal.

Loukina Athanasopoulos outside her step-mother’s business Benvenuto Salon in Downtown San Anselmo. (Henry Pratt)

“I not only have the people that worked out here decades ago, but now I have their grandkids. I have three generations of Fairfax, San Anselmo, and San Geronimo Valley people that bring their children here. They trust me to have a facility for their children and their grandchildren…This gym is its clients. I’m just here for the ride,” Marckwordt said.

Loukina Athanasopoulos, manager and receptionist at Benvenuto Salon in San Anselmo, is owner Katarina Daraki’s stepdaughter. She shares Marckwordt’s view that business reopenings were chaotic, and oftentimes confusing. She said that Benvenuto was allowed to reopen for two weeks from Jun. 29 through Jul. 14.

“We actually had to do our own research to see which kind of businesses were allowed to open…we figured out we were legally allowed to be open for those two weeks, but we were shut down very abruptly in the middle of the day on the last day that the [California Governor Gavin Newsom (D)] announced that we should close immediately because of the COVID-19 spike,” Athanasopoulos said. 

Athanasopoulos said that the clientele of Benvenuto has changed dramatically. Some of their regular clients do not feel comfortable being in close proximity to other people, or decided that they would rather not have their hair colored at all.

“We have lost a good percentage of our clientele at this point,” Athanasopoulos  said. 

Athanasopoulos also said that Benvenuto had to buy many new items that they ordinarily would not need before the pandemic. 

“We bought sneeze guards…disposable smocks, disposable gloves…we spent about 9,000 dollars to maintain the safety in our business,” Athanasopoulos said.

Because of this financial commitment, Athanasopoulos said that she would have preferred a local group from Marin County to supervise the reopening process and make sure that businesses reopen safely.

My heart goes out to them, and I would say my advice to them would be to keep the faith and just be as creative as you can in your thinking about new ways to approach what you do and what you love doing for a living”

— Louise Franz

“They are the ones that lead out the plan of how we should operate, and we never saw anybody come in to make sure that we were operating safely. The only thing that happened was they would just shut us down again without giving us a chance,” Athanasopoulos said.

Despite the difficulties of running a business during a pandemic, Franz at Pizzalina said that the community has been extremely supportive of her, her restaurant, and her staff. 

“A lot of our loyal clientele, the people who have been our biggest supporters in Marin and in San Anselmo, started coming out and started being so generous…they started buying gift cards and being really generous to our staff…we had some customers who had a 30 dollar check for takeout and they would drop 100 dollars and they would tell my employees to keep the change,” Franz said.

Franz also said that despite her good fortune within the community, she knows other owners whose businesses are temporarily closed or closed for good. 

“My heart goes out to them, and I would say my advice to them would be to keep the faith and just be as creative as you can in your thinking about new ways to approach what you do and what you love doing for a living…try and find a new way to do your business, because there are other opportunities out there, it’s just that they don’t look how they looked seven or eight months ago,”  Franz said.

Due to the challenges of COVID-19, Marin small businesses owners have had to completely rethink their traditional way of doing business. Some small businesses are now reopened, ready to serve their loyal customers once again.

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