OGDEN — As the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in last year, leading to new guidelines and restrictions meant to curb the virus’ spread, business at Coffee Links took a dip.
The public was sticking close to home, rarely going out to reduce the risk of getting sick, thus the customer count dropped.
“So we had to improvise,” said Mauricio Araujo, who helps run the Ogden coffee shop, owned by his father Leon Araujo. The upshot — Coffee Links created curbside pickup and delivery options, among other changes.
For many businesses, probably most, it’s been a challenging year. On the bright side, Leon Araujo, like other Ogden-area Latino business operators, says business is bouncing back at Coffee Links as the COVID-19 threat eases. “We survived,” he said.
In some ways, though, Latino- and other minority-owned businesses faced their own set of particular issues in contending with the pandemic, experts say. For one thing, the stress and worry caused by the pandemic seemed to loom even larger for minority-owned business operators than for others. “Minority-owned business owners are more likely than non-minority owners to report difficulty obtaining loans, express fears about permanently closing and predict declining revenues in the coming year,” reads a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report from last August, when the pandemic really started to hit the hardest.
What’s more, many Latino- and other minority-owned businesses are smaller operations, which translated into more difficulty weathering the downturn caused by the pandemic, more difficulty in accessing federal grants and loans meant to aid impacted businesses. “In our national sample of Latino-owned employer businesses, we find that Latinos have fewer resources to weather the ongoing storm. Latino-owned businesses have less cash on hand and when requesting funding from the Payroll Protection Program, Latinos have their PPP loans approved at half the rate of white-owned businesses,” reads a report by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, also released last August.
Araujo said some Latino business operators, of smaller operations anyway, don’t always keep the sort of records lending institutions require for loans. “They never thought about it, so when they start the paperwork, the banks say, ‘Nope, we need the accounting,’” he said. “They have nothing at all.”
Angel Castillo, an Ogden community advocate who worked with businesses trying to tap into federal COVID-19 relief funding, echoed that. Minority-owned businesses trying to tap into the first pot of relief funding faced a “huge hurdle” stemming from a requirement to include profit-loss statements in their applications, not something that smaller operations always keep. “If you’re a mom-and-pop burrito shop, you’re probably not going to have someone putting a profit-and-loss (statement) in your books,” she said.
Compared to other groups, Latinos run a disproportionate number of food and personal-services businesses, like hair salons, which have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, noted Silvia Castro, head of the Suazo Business Center, which aids Latino and other minority entrepreneurs.
All that said, Araujo and other Latino business operators say they managed.
Marlen Quintero, who runs the Five O’clock Shadow Barber Shop in Ogden, remembers the worry last year when barber shops and salons had to temporarily close their doors, per government coronavirus restrictions. Like Araujo, Quintero is originally from Mexico. “I was mostly worried about my barbers because this is their full-time job, their sole income,” she said.
On reopening after the forced closure, though, the clients came in, even if there were new safety procedures to follow. “It was really awesome to see our community stand behind us,” she said.
In fact, Five O’clock Shadow outgrew its old location and Quintero uprooted the business and moved to new digs at 455 24th St. last January as the COVID-19 case count in Utah was peaking. She was scared, she said, “but we knew we were going to make it work, regardless. We were going to make the best of the situation.”
And despite the difficulties experts say some Latino business operators faced in tapping federal grant funds, many were nevertheless able to secure assistance.
Javier Chavez, owner of Javier’s Authentic Mexican Food, a chain of Ogden-area restaurants, and also originally from Mexico, cited the assistance and the business’ loyal customers in making it through. Javier’s marked 30 years in business last February.
“It was hard, but we survived with the help of the state, the federal government, the community,” he said. “We are OK.”
Omar Vazquez, who runs El Changarro Loco, a Mexican restaurant in Ogden, also tapped into relief funds. Still, there were tough times. “We had to lay off all our employees because we didn’t know what was going to happen. It was uncertain,” Vazquez said.
As at Coffee Links, staffing at El Changarro Loco, which also operates a catering service, was reduced to family — Vazquez, who’s from Mexico, his wife and the couple’s two kids. Now, things seem to returning to normal and the staffing problems are swinging in the other direction — not enough employees to keep pace with customers as business bounces back.
Now there’s more business, he said, “but there aren’t people to work.”