David Pisarra

Back in the carefree days of early March, before the great shutdown, we had a vibrant city with many small businesses supporting families. Life was blissfully chugging along and few of us thought about the cataclysmic virus that was roaring down the road of life towards us.

I was just back from a trip to South Africa where I had been traveling with my brother and seeing my friends from around the world. There was talk of this new virus, people were aware of it, slightly concerned but mostly just moving on with life. The long flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta was populated with individuals who wore masks and gloves, but they were the minority of passengers. The flight attendants took no notice really, and there was no set of precautions that we all had to take.

That third week of March seems so long ago, and yet feels almost like yesterday. Governor Newsom announced the Shelter in Place order, and I was walking along with my friend and her dogs when I said this was going to be bad, really bad for many small business owners. She didn’t believe me. Like many people she thought it was a week or two of compulsory vacation. Not me.

I saw the ripple effect this was all going to have. Having worked with many entrepreneurs, I know exactly how thin the line is their businesses walk each day between survival and death. A product recall, and a company is out of business. Too many bills and not enough marketing and bam, shut it all down.

When you’re an entrepreneur scraping together the funds to get your first business off the ground you do a lot of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” – which is officially called cash-flow management. Entrepreneurs have to prioritize bills, payroll, rent, vendor payments and marketing & advertising expenses in order to keep the lights on and the machine operating. It’s a lot of work and it is all very dependent on one thing – the constant flow of money. It’ll ebb and flow, there’ll be highs and lows, big weeks and slow weeks, but so long as there is a flow, the juggling act can continue.

It’s when the flow stops that the business goes stagnant and turns fallow. Because some expenses continue no matter what, like rent and utilities, a small interruption in cash-flow can cause big problems – even if it’s for a week or two, let alone months.

It’s painful for me to see the destruction of businesses that COVID is causing in our little city. I know how hard the entrepreneurs work to build their dreams and when they get dashed on the rocks of life, it’s a sad day. Earlier this month, YogurtLand closed down. The shop was opened about 2 years ago and had a good run of it. Being in a good strip mall at the corner of Pico and Lincoln didn’t assure success, but it tipped the scales in their favor. Having the high school so close, along with a good selection of other food companies, made this location a ‘more likely to succeed than not’ space.

But a good location cannot overcome a global pandemic that demanded we rewrite the rules of business and social interaction. A business that was dependent on people eating out, and being able to create their dessert concoction was not going to survive the ‘order in’ new world order. Especially when the new health codes mean that self-serve is not allowed in most instances.

I knew that YogurtLand closed and reached out to Rudy who used to be my favorite store manager there to see what he was up to. He told me that he had moved on to managing a 99 Cents Only store and was doing okay. I was happy for him. He’s a good young man, who is caught up in the troubles of the economy. But yesterday as the sign guy came to take down the YogurtLand sign from the building, I felt pangs of hurt for Chris who invested heart and soul, and more than a few dollars into the location. I hope he’s okay and can recover fairly quickly from what I’m sure is an economic rock being tossed into the pond of his life.

His is just one story of the great shuttering. As you make your way about town, pay attention to the closed businesses, say a prayer if you’re so inclined for their owners, and remember to support our local businesses a bit more as we continue to feel the fallout from the pandemic.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments.  He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra