County and State anti-business mandates continue to drive local businesses to the brink of extinction. Soroor Campbell, owner of The Vineyards, a wedding and event venue in Simi Valley, says she has had to cancel $1.7 million in reservations and counting, including $600,000 in prom business alone.
“I’m on the verge of losing everything,” says Campbell. “What I don’t understand is how the County can provide instructions for other businesses to open, but not us. We have the room to socially distance; we have acres of space outdoors; we can provide masks like anyone else. I see restaurants seating people in a tent with four sides in their parking lot, which the County says is okay because it’s ‘open-air.’ Every window in this hall opens. I can be more ‘open-air’ than any of these vinyl tents.”
Soroor immigrated from Iran in 1978 when she was 16. She married her high school sweetheart, James Campbell, at age 19. She began working in restaurants while still in her teens, moving up through the ranks and ultimately landing a catering position in a hotel that hosted many weddings. In 2006, she opened The Vineyards, a sprawling 8-acre wedding and banquet venue in Simi Valley.
The property boasts a 10,000-square-foot hall featuring a full kitchen and bar, green pasture areas, landscaping, fountains and even a waterfall that flows over the ballroom’s south windows. Soroor spent $1.8 million to renovate the location into an idyllic spot for nuptials and other festive events. Before the Campbells transformed the property into a thriving business, local articles had called the property a “boondoggle.”
“Read our reviews. People love us!” expressed Soroor. “Additionally, we use local vendors for everything we can with people who live here in Simi Valley, so we provide income to a lot of locals. Everyone who is here around us, they know us because we try to spread the business around to everybody.”
The County-led shutdowns changed their business paradigm completely.
“I’m in a battle with a couple of [clients] because of the shutdowns; they don’t want to get married here anymore,” says Campbell. “Brides often want to get married on a particular day that they don’t want to move that date. I have brides that want to sue me for breach of contract and the County threatening me with legal enforcement if I open. Lawyers have called me and said I’m not performing on the contract. It’s the government that has said it’s illegal for me to perform, even though it’s not illegal.”
Even though The Vineyards is closed, the Health Department sends representatives regularly to repeat rules they already know.
“Doesn’t he have anything else to do?” Campbell asks.
One time, the Campbells’ daughter, who works for them, finally said, “Why are you constantly harassing us? We’re not doing anything.”
When Campbell told the County official that her clients with signed contracts are pushing for their weddings to happen, the response was, “You’ll just have to reinvent yourself.” When re-telling this, Soroor sat forward in her seat and exclaimed, “This made me so angry! The arrogance! None of these government employees have gone a single day without pay. I wonder what their reaction would be if their income was cut off for a year and someone told them to go reinvent themselves. All through college and my youth, this is what I have always done for a living. This is what I knew was best for my life. This is our family business; my husband, my daughter, my son … all of us get paid from this place. It has been really hard on my family. I am being squeezed between a rock and a hard place.”
Campbell says Ventura County has provided no parameters or instructions on how to reopen to keep her business alive. Linda Parks is the County Supervisor responsible for Oxnard through Simi Valley. The Conejo Guardian asked Parks for comment, but Supervisor Parks was unavailable.
In addition to being forced to shut down and cancel reservations, the Campbells’ bills don’t go away in the interim. They can’t let the grass and plants die, or the water stagnate, or the building go without maintenance, she says. There is property insurance to pay, and workers comp insurance, and all of the other fees associated with running a business.
“There’s no break and no end to it,” Campbell says. “I’m still being taxed for all this. I just had to pay all my fees for ABC Liquor License, for the dance permit, music permit, fees to the city, you name it. All these fees were due in December. Now, in 2021, Governor Newsom says we don’t have to pay the fees. A little too late, we already paid them. Are they offering a refund? That would help a lot. But that answer is no.”
Campbell hopes her family’s business survives whatever is next from the County and State.
“I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve spent everything I have. It’s gone,” she says. “It’s not easy sitting here empty for so many months. At some point, there is a choice. They are either going to choke me within the next couple of months, or I have to do things on my own and go to jail.”