Local Businesses Die While We Live in Quarantine

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Picture your favorite local businesses, not counting grocery stores, or corporate chains.

Think of the people who work there; how familiar they are to you, and you to them. Maybe you even greet one another by name. Maybe you, your friends and family have been customers at those places for years, even decades.

Imagine how you’d feel if you learned that your favorite business had suddenly closed, not because the owners had chosen to happily retire and move to Maui, but because the COVID-19 pandemic caused so many customers – like you, like me – to stay away and the business died.

For my mental image of one of my favorite businesses, I have in mind La Cabana Mexican Restaurant in downtown Redding. I love their food, but I love the family who owns and operates the restaurant even more, which is saying a lot.

Here’s a photo of  just the sisters.

La Cabana is family-owned and operated. Meet the sisters.

I’ve been a La Cabana regular since the restaurant opened in 1996. I say I’m a regular, but come to think of it, I’ve not been there since the whole COVID-19 catastrophe blew up. Things have been so crazy, you know, what with learning the art of social distancing, and reading everything about COVID-19, and shopping for enough food and toilet paper to self-quarantine for two weeks.

I won’t flatter myself into thinking that La Cabana will collapse if I’m not there for 14 days, but the thing is, what if everyone – all the customers – stayed away for days, weeks and eventually, months? That’s pretty much what’s happened at not just La Cabana, but scores of small north-state businesses, most of which were getting by OK, but didn’t have a lot of financial wiggle room. As a small-business owner, I am woefully aware of how that reality works.

In these last few days I’ve heard politicians promise to help the American people cope during this pandemic crisis. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the Calvary riding into Shasta County any time soon; certainly not soon enough to keep all these small businesses from going broke before help arrives. Of course, I understand they’re not up there as a presidential priority, like an airline, casino or cruise-line company, for example.

I’ve lived in Redding since I was 5, and in that time I’ve bitterly lamented the loss of so many precious businesses that went away and never returned. The Redding Bakery, Glovers’ Toy Store, Humble Pie, River City Bar and Grill, The Carriage House, The Cake Company, Thompson’s, Giramonte’s, Oh gosh, I must be old because I could list dead businesses all the live-long day.

We can weep and wail our heads off, but the fact is there’s no raising of the dead when it comes to a closed business, unless there’s an honest-to-God feathers-and-gold-dust miracle. Once a business is dead and departed, it’s lost and gone forever.

Imagine for a moment what the essence of our city would be like if all those lively, wonderful local  businesses we love so dearly were suddenly gone. Places like La Cabana could be quickly replaced with McDonald’s or something like it because billionaire corporations will be the only businesses with enough money left to carry on after all the local business have died. And what happens to the good people whose businesses die; people who’ve slaved and invested every last cent to make a go of it?

Well, goodbye happy life; hello bankruptcy, homelessess, foreclosure and poverty.

Our city has flaws-a-plenty, but its local businesses and hard-working business people help make Redding as bearable as it is. Without locally owned businesses, Redding would become just another corporate, robotic,  imitation-vanilla cookie-cutter soulless I-5 pit stop. Heat would be its most memorable feature.

Yes, the COVID-19 disaster has the entire world in the vortex of an undeniable, horrifying emergency. As a result, educated folks and scientists have advised us – especially Boomers and older – to stay inside as much as possible. They explain that social distancing not only keeps me from being infected and kicking the bucket before my time, but it keeps me from infecting others, since there’s no way of knowing – since testing is pretty much MIA – how many asymptomatic folks are blissfully walking around, coughing and sneezing into salad bars, ignorantly infecting others with a potential death sentence. So yes, self-quarantining is a big safety deal.

Even so,  truth be told I’m not one bit happy being on house arrest, minus the Shasta County ankle bracelet. I’m as ticked as anyone to miss out on some important events that I was really looking forward to, including an annual girlfriends’ getaway in Plymouth. And it literally makes me sick to my stomach to consider that I might miss a granddaughter’s birthday, to the point where I don’t even allow myself to think about it.

But I would probably feel far sicker if I became infected with COVID-19. And I’d have a hard time facing myself in the mirror each day if I knew I’d passed on the virus to someone else, especially an  elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system. So I’m lucky because I’m alive, I’m healthy and I have at least two weeks’ worth of supplies.

So here I am, at home, right where I’m supposed to be. Of course it’s prudent to stay inside and not venture out for food.

Right?

Well, perhaps.

The fact is, I believe it’s possible to practice social distancing while still supporting the businesses we adore enough to help in their darkest hours, so they’ll be there when we’re back in the light again.

We have loopholes through which we can throw economic lifesavers to local businesses, especially restaurants. We can have food delivered. We can call in an order, and drive to pick it up. Or, if you don’t want to leave the car, you can bet that someone inside that business will be happy to run it to your car. We can order food to be delivered elsewhere as expressions of gratitude, such as to the front-line angels who work in hospitals and doctors offices and fire departments and police departments and post offices and even grocery stores. We can order surprise food for a friend who’s sheltering in place, but who hates to cook, or who’s running low on food. We can buy gift cards for the oh-happy-days that are surely coming when, as our president likes to say, the virus finally flows away.

This is such an important moment, and it’s up to us to either use it or lose it. We can take decisive, immediate action to support our favorite businesses in creative ways, while simultaneously practicing common sense and social distancing. If that’s not a win-win, then I don’t know what is.

Or, we could do nothing. Then, someday, when the coast is clear, and we get the CDC’s glory-hallelujah green light to leave our homes, visit restaurants and pop by our favorite businesses, it will be too late. They’ll be gone.

Just add them to the list of COVID-19 casualties.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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