Less than a month ago, the streets of Santa Monica were chock-full of residents rushing into retailers to prepare for their Valentine’s Day dates. Salons, restaurants and boutiques from Venice to Malibu were packed as significant others sought out the perfect gift.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has given retailers plenty of time to reminisce on days’ past as it has drastically changed the everyday lives of many residents on the Westside and forced many local establishments to quickly adapt if they want to avoid shuttering their doors permanently.
Sam Trude, owner and founder of Venice’s Great White cafe, said this week that his establishment is lucky to have a strong base of loyal customers, because 95% of business at Great White is a direct result of dine-in eating.
With summer around the corner, Trude explained how he and his 35 staff members were previously discussing how to celebrate the cafe’s expansion in April.
“We’re taking the space next door to us so we’ve been in construction there for about seven to eight months,” Trude said. “So, you know, this time two weeks ago, we were planning a grand opening and a big launch event and discussing how to hire more people, summer hours and really gearing up for all of that.”
But now everything is on hold, according to Trude, who said, “We were basically blindsided by this. We had to stop our construction, let all of those guys go and then just go into disaster-recovery mode on the existing restaurant.”
As a result, Trude was scrambling this last week to sign up for various delivery apps, which was a common scene for many business owners in recent days.
When Surfer Rose opened in February on Wilshire Boulevard, owner Ivan Torres hoped to lure in patrons by touting beer, bite size bar offerings and other delicious eats, but the recent restrictions on public dining have now forced Torres, his staff and many of their peers in the area to offer strictly take-out options.
It’s been hard communicating the changes to customers, according to Trude, but once patrons learn that places like Great White are still open, they are usually more than eager to ride a bike down to Pacific Avenue to enjoy the cafe’s atmosphere and recently refreshed menu.
“I think it’s been a good reprieve for people. We’ve been hearing a lot of: ‘I’ve been stuck at home and want an excuse to get out in a safe way,’ and I think we provide that normalcy people want,” Trude said as he described how local patrons are also helping businesses retain their employees by shopping during the pandemic.
Some businesses on Abbot Kinney have opted to close for now, “but we’re lucky to have a strong following who will come three to four times a week. And I feel for those businesses that maybe don’t have that strong community following because I see them really struggling,” Trude said. “You have to take it day by day, and that’s what we’re all trying to do. We don’t know how long we’ll be in this so we’ve been really creative, trying out soups, whole roasted chickens,” and a number of other items like the Happiness Hampers.
It’s an adjustment, “but we have to get creative right now,” Trude said, which is a sentiment shared by many, including “The Beauty Alchemist” Shannon Tackett.
“I didn’t really think too much about the slowdown a couple of weeks ago because my business does tend to ebb and flow,” Tackett said in an interview Thursday. “But this week, it’s all I’ve noticed.”
Having recently contemplated working out of her home, which would allow her to save the $315 she pays weekly to rent a chair at a local salon, Tackett decided to make the change this week and is now offering house calls and services in her own home.
“I was already starting to calculate numbers, and then this happened,” Tackett said while detailing how she lost more than $500 this week due to cancellations. “So at that point, I just made the hard decision and am in the process of creating a beautiful outdoor sanctuary and salon complete with ocean view, sunset cocktail haircuts and aromatherapy massages.”
Like Trude and the Great White staff, Tackett is currently trying to market to the masses and hopes she will soon be able to get back to business as usual.
“I’m currently having everybody contact me on my phone 310-745-9773 and we’re setting up appointments either at my place or theirs,” Tackett said, mentioning she wears gloves and provides masks during every consultation.
“We have to be really creative right now,” Trude added, which is very hard considering how much is unknown right now. “But people want to help, and that’s the amazing thing. They can support by just helping to keep some revenue coming in so stores don’t go under.”