As students slowly begin returning to campus, most small businesses are looking to rebound, but for at least one shop, there is no need.
While most small businesses have suffered over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bicycle business has experienced the opposite effect.
“For us, sales went up a little bit,” said Oscar Mendez, an employee at Three Brothers Bike Shop. As an essential business, his workplace has remained open when most other small businesses have been required to close.
Mendez attributed the influx in bike purchases to the growing popularity of outdoor activities in the absence of other forms of entertainment and recreation such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, theme parks and simple activities like dining indoors.
“People, I guess, wanted to get out more often, rather than stay in their homes, and obviously get some exercise,” he said.
Enough people have been purchasing bikes that Three Brothers Bike Shop had issues maintaining enough inventory to satisfy their customers. “We went to our providers and they didn’t have it either,” Mendez said, “I’m guessing their employees were having issues with COVID.”
Unfortunately, the same increase in sales has not been experienced by most other small businesses, especially restaurants. Repeated lockdown orders for the state, county and city have forced many restaurants to rely on delivery services and takeout options for the majority of their profits. Even before the pandemic, restaurants had issues with food delivery apps due to fees and commission rates.
“A lot of people that used to pick up didn’t want to leave their house. Postmates, Grubhub and other food delivery services really kept us on our feet,” said Steven Rivera, who works at Viztango Cafe, an Italian restaurant on Figueroa Street.
He also mentioned that he knows of some businesses that have had to close their doors for good because they refuse to use delivery services. For this reason, coupled with the fact that the number of student clientele frequenting establishments based near USC has decreased, some employees of small businesses are thankful to keep their jobs at all.
“I’m just grateful that we’ve been able to stay open and that my boss is a really good boss and she’s trying everything she can to keep us employed,” said Olivia Richardson, a manager at Momota Ramen House, also on Figueroa Street.
Both Rivera and Richarson agree that while there is a slight increase in customers since the beginning of the pandemic, it still isn’t the amount they’re used to seeing. The University Park campus has only housed a small number of students on campus since the start of the pandemic, and USC Housing announced on Feb. 12 that they were not approved by the county to house any additional students for the spring 2021 semester.
There are still students living in off-campus housing nearby. “Over the last week, I’ve definitely noticed a big difference just because there are so many people compared to when I studied at the Village last semester,” said Ryan Lewis, a USC junior majoring in real estate development. “The Village seems to be more lively and almost back to normal.”
This is good news for both small business employees and USC students who are missing the community of small businesses that make South L.A. their home.
“It’s the small businesses surrounding USC that have made my college experience what it has been,” said Alexandra Zarchy, a USC sophomore double majoring in non-governmental organizations and social change and public relations.
These small businesses are what make our big city seem small, making their rebound all the more essential.