* Small businesses — the new speakeasies of the COVID world

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Perhaps this sounds familiar—contacting your hairstylist for an in-home color treatment on your grown-out roots, coming in through the back door at your nail salon to fix your acrylics, or visiting your personal trainer for an off-the-record appointment. Small businesses are the new speakeasies of our COVID world, and like prohibition, our current COVID-related legislation has forced businesses to choose between compliance and their livelihood, putting them between a rock and a hard place.  

After enduring months of lockdown and plummeting revenue, beauty parlors, gyms, restaurants, and salons were finally given the green light to reopen. Business owners reopened with minimum capacity, sanitized constantly, and ensured social distancing with hopes of slowly building back revenue. Yet on Monday, July 13, these businesses were catapulted back to square one when Governor Newsom published an executive order mandating the immediate closure of all restaurants, bars, beauty salons, gyms, and even the indoor closure of places of worship.

Though businesses have had some support from the stimulus bills coming out of Washington, the bills cannot replace revenue, and these businesses are feeling this reality keenly. In our own backyard, owners of Westlake Brewing and Libations and Dude’s Brewing Company were forced to shut their doors due to loss of revenue. Rocket Fizz, a Thousand Oaks staple, will be permanently closing in October. 

Small business owners continue to battle the enduring question that permeates COVID-legislation, namely, why is their business considered “non-essential” over another? While retail giants like Walmart and Target have seen record-breaking revenue at the expense of their small-scale competitors’ closures, the question naturally arises: is this legislation truly fair? Why are large-scale businesses allowed to operate under CDC guidelines while small businesses are forced to close their doors? Can’t the “small guy” be given the chance to make their business just as safe an environment for their customers?

During the small window that these businesses were allowed to reopen, we saw that small businesses can, in fact, operate under the same CDC health guidelines just as successfully, if not more so, than large-scale businesses. Hairstylists and nail manicurists wore gloves and plastic full-face coverings while attending to their customers, gyms operated at minimum capacity to make space for individual stations and sanitized equipment constantly, restaurants maintained a clean, controlled environment for their customers. Small businesses were able to meet CDC guidelines, sometimes with greater vigilance than large-scale businesses, yet they were forced to close their doors. 

This is the new reality in our COVID world, a world where small businesses are forced to choose between compliance with these mandates or their livelihoods. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, particularly within our communities, and this legislation could threaten their survival. 

Rather than forcing small businesses to consider defiance to the law by operating out the “back door,” perhaps California legislation should consider giving small businesses the same opportunity as large businesses to operate under CDC guidelines.  Public health and economic stability are not mutually exclusive; both can be accomplished with strict adherence to CDC guidelines.  Let’s open the front door to small business again.  

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