Local businesses struggle during crisis

storefront signage says "we're all in this together"
Tattoo Parlor by Dalton Padilla

By Dalton Padilla & Sayre Key-Towne / NM News Port /

Albuquerque businesses are experiencing difficult times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the more fortunate ones is Frontier Restaurant, a local landmark serving the UNM area since 1971, which has remained open, although only for takeout orders.

panera store with empty parking lot and open for takeout sign
A Nob Hill restaurant with empty parking lot advertises “Open for Takeout,” the best many eateries can offer during the pandemic. (Photo by Dalton Padilla / NM News Port)

“We’ve been getting slammed. So many orders. It’s like the only difference is it’s pretty quiet inside the restaurant,” said Luis Gomez, a UNM student who has worked for the Frontier since 201

Gomez said the most popular take out orders are trending toward lunch and dinner.

“Before the outbreak, everyone was ordering the number one breakfast and the breakfast burrito with sweet rolls,” Gomez said, “but now it seems like the enchiladas are the most popular.”

Gomez works six days a week, doing a little bit of everything. On this day, he is holding a sign telling passersby that the restaurant’s Central Avenue front doors are still open.

“The sign job is my least favorite. I’d rather stay in the kitchen all day… at least I get to talk to people,” Gomez said.

He adds that he’s ready for the world to be normal again

Many businesses, though, have been deemed nonessential and have had to close their doors and send their employees home.

sign on florist shop says governor allowing curbside service
Storefront sign advises patrons of Agave Florist in Nob Hill that the NM governor is not allowing them inside the shop. (Photo by Dalton Padilla / NM News Port)

Mike D’Elia has run Astrozombies comic book store on Central Avenue in Nob Hill for over a decade. He said he is struggling to stay afloat while he and fellow business owners stay home to take care of themselves and their families.

He says the situation is made worse by the high number of commercial burglaries sweeping the city.

“It’s really sad that even when we can’t open our doors to support ourselves, others find it necessary to steal,” D’Elia said. ”Even worse, just to break windows in the neighborhood for no reason than because they want to.”

D’Elia said he remains confident his business and his several employees will remain strong. However, news broke recently that D’Elia had a felony conviction that leaves him without eligibility for the City of Albuquerque’s small business grant program.

The City of Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department said it has been unable to quantify how many businesses had to shut down but those that fall under the nonessential category number in the hundreds.

Kinsey Cooper, the information gathering & production group leader at the Joint Information Center in Albuquerque, said that while businesses and their employees are abiding by the stay-at-home orders, the city is working on providing resources to them.

“The City of Albuquerque is offering various types of support for residents, including small business assistance, rental assistance, food boxes, meals, drive-up WiFi and informational resources,” Cooper said.

Unemployment claims across the country have skyrocketed and the national unemployment rate for April was the worst in U.S. history. The situation is staggering for many workers and employers.

sign says masks are being sold here
Closed Nob Hill retailer, the Toad Road Clothing Company, suggests buying masks on their website. (Photo by Dalton Padilla / NM News Port)

The city of Albuquerque began the Micro Business Relief Program in late March to grant $5,000 to any business meeting the following criteria:

  • The business must have 5 or fewer employees, including the owner/s.
  • The business must be registered and physically located within the Albuquerque city limits.
  • The business must have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.
  • The business must have been in business for at least 6 months.
  • Grant funds must be deposited into a business bank account and only be used for business expenses. The City of Albuquerque will make electronic deposits.
  • Business owners must agree to provide a report about the use and results of the grant funds six months after receipt.
  • Businesses that are franchises or restricted to patrons above the age of 18 or older will not be eligible for award (for example, bars or smoke shops).
portrait of Jennifer Esquivel
Jennifer Esquivel with the City of Albuquerque Economic Development Department said the city needs help supporting local businesses. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Esquivel)

The Micro-Business Relief Program grantees were announced on April 14, 2020, to help businesses with payroll or losses during the COVID shutdown. The initial fund was $500,000 to help 100 businesses that met the criteria.

According to Jennifer Esquivel, a spokeswoman for the City of Albuquerque Economic Development Department, an additional $200,000 was reallocated from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency to support 40 businesses. Another $50,000 was donated by the One Albuquerque Fund to support 10 more local businesses.

Esquivel said the City of Albuquerque cannot do it alone.

“We hope that others in the community will be able to donate to the One Albuquerque Fund and earmark donations for ‘small business,’” Esquivel said.

Esquivel said the Albuquerque government is also trying to look ahead to reopening the local economy.

“The primary goal is assisting Albuquerque small business workers during the public health crisis,” Esquivel said.

”We are also focused on developing an economic recovery plan.”

 

empty chairs in the outdoor eating area of local restaurant
The tables and chairs remain empty (and blown over) in the outdoor eating area of Kellys Brew Pub, a popular hangout in the Nob Hill district of Albuquerque. (Photo by Dalton Padilla / NM News Port)

Meanwhile, local business owners like Astrozombie’s Mike D’Elia say they just have to hang on.

“No one knows what the new normal will even look like once this is over,” D’Elia said. “Our best plan is to take it a little bit at a time, make the adjustments where necessary in hopes of, things being some version of normal in the future.”

Follow Dalton O. Padilla @journalistdalt on Twitter.

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By Michael Marcotte

Hi, I'm the (first-ever) Professor of Practice in Journalism at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. So I'm very involved in helping students learn multimedia journalism. Before New Mexico, I was the 2012-2013 Reynolds Chair in Ethics of Entrepreneurial and Innovative Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno... and, before that, a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. I'm also very active as a consultant, having spent over 25 years as a news director. My website is http://www.mikemarcotte.com or on Twitter: http://twitter.com/michvinmar