I found it skimming through the news. I’m not sure if you saw it, but it was laced in with the rest of the muck and coronavirus stats: The city of San Luis Obispo ranked No. 10 in the nation in permanent and temporary business closures.
This was according to Yelp’s economic average report in mid June. The crowd-sourced review giant found that across industries, restaurants have been hit the hardest. But one graph titled, “Where are the most businesses closed,” under the tab “closures per 1,000,” showed our fair region’s ranking. The state of California ranked No. 3 in the nation for permanent and temporary business closures.
According to Yelp’s report, nearly 73,000 businesses—a majority being restaurant and retail—have permanently closed across the nation, accounting for 55 percent of more than 175,000 business closures in April.
The trends may not turn around anytime soon—as schools begin in August with kids at home, parents may have to sacrifice their work situations, leaving them with less cash to spend eating out.
Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report stated that restaurants had the highest number of business closures, compared to other industries in March, and have continued to close at high rates, and “53 percent of those restaurant closures are indicated permanent on Yelp.”
As I’ve learned from talking with our local chefs and restaurant owners during these coronavirus times, and as stated in the report, “Restaurants run on thin margins and can sometimes take months or even years to break even, resulting in this higher rate of permanent closures.”
Walking around my favorite blocks in downtown Morro Bay on and off Main Street, I noticed DiStasio’s On the Bay added about 10 tables to their front patio, Tacos de Mexico was hopping as usual (all outdoors), and the Grape Leaf Deli & Market was open for Greek deliciousness. But so many restaurants have closed, either temporarily or for good: This could be any two block situation in every city of SLO County.
For as many Hungry Fishermans and Bumble B Soda Companies adapting to outdoor seating and take-out, there are unlucky neighbors, shuttered and locked with closed signs, paper covering glass windows, and dead leaves gathering on their front steps.
Yet many hope to reopen. Morro Bay Butcher & Deli has been closed up since quarantine. In April, they posted on Facebook, “Hope will get us through these difficult times, and we’re in it for the long haul!” And their hashtags made me smile: #notgoinganywhere … #persevere … #smallbusiness. I heard they were setting up a turquoise tent at their first farmers market on Aug. 1, serving up sliders with sautéed onions and pepper jack cheese.
The Yelp survey analysis remarks on the many restaurants that found innovative ways to continue serving customers, including takeout and delivery—like the indomitable Street Side Grill in Paso Robles and A-Town—home meal and drink kits, and virtual cooking classes. Others are finding new ways to use existing technology, such as Yelp Waitist or toasttab.com to manage curbside pickup.
“Servicing food to-go produces high margins for restaurants,” the report said, “and we’ve seen a 10-time increase in searches for takeout since March 10.”
Yelp further found, “While some normal activity is starting to bounce back, due to the many changes impacting local economies—state rules, consumer behavior, and social unrest—many of the consumer interest shifts we saw in March and April started to rebound in May, with dramatic shifts in June.”
The report found “the previous spike in community supported agriculture and grocery had started to dip (down 54 percent and 26 percent respectively) as people start heading back to restaurants,” and as of June 25 dine-in was down 57 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
On a national level, Yelp reported, “… takeout and delivery has continued to sustain interest on Yelp, still up 148 percent based on consumer interest relative to pre-pandemic levels, indicating this could be a trend that’s here to stay.”
Innovation aside, we lost some, especially the restaurants without patios that relied on dine-in. Yet it’s hard to predict what that ominous “closed” sign on your favorite food establishment even means anymore. Last time our restaurants opened for dine-in, wait staff were hired back after months of unemployment, and then Gov. Newsom ordered us closed again. That sign in the window could mean permanently closed or temporarily closed until dine-in opens back up.
As I was listening to a recent Zoom meeting for a local school district reopening committee, a mother shared a story of her young son going out to eat during that one-month span, between dine-in closures. She said as soon as his meal was served, he began to cry. He had been sheltering-at-home for months, as his school had shut down early for summer and playgrounds had yet to open.
His mother asked what could possibly be wrong?
“Everyone is just so happy,” the boy said, as he observed other people sitting together, enjoying their meals.
To bring a child to tears, I believe our restaurants and favorite eateries have much more of an impact than the Yelp survey could ever count. ?
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre can’t wait to cry joyful tears in her beer. Send happy thoughts to email@example.com.