Since Gov. Gavin Newsom tightened stay-at-home restrictions that had been loosened in May, Westwood businesses have struggled to adjust to the new normal.
The re-tightening of restrictions came July 13 in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases after the state partially reopened in May. This news was particularly devastating for businesses that barely survived the original closure.
30% of Westwood Village is now vacant since many businesses, including AT&T, Sur La Table and El Pollo Loco among others, have closed indefinitely, said Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association.
Although other businesses remain operational, many have been forced to choose between taking out substantial loans or laying off workers, Thomas said. The Regency theaters, for example, were forced to furlough some of their longtime employees.
“We’ve really been hit with sort of a one-two-three-four punch regarding the repercussions of the economic downturn,” Thomas said.
The immediate departure of UCLA students in March sent many businesses spiraling towards bankruptcy, including “legacy businesses” like Stan’s Donuts and Helen’s Cycles, Thomas added.
The lack of UCLA students in Westwood remains a significant financial burden on the Village, since many businesses rely on students to generate income, said Andrew Lewis, a member of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council.
Some businesses have fared better than others — essential services such as Target, Trader Joe’s, Ralphs and CVS are doing as well as ever, Thomas said.
Some businesses have adapted to a new Village environment.
Businesses that have created a reliable delivery or takeout system have managed to get by, Thomas said. Despite a much lower profit margin, Tender Greens has offered extensive takeout options and Diddy Riese has created an online ordering service, he added.
In addition to partnering with Postmates and DoorDash to ensure delivery options are available, Tender Greens started selling fresh grocery boxes for customers to take home, said Vanessa Diaz, the restaurant’s executive chef.
“Selling the grocery boxes was really beneficial when the whole pandemic started, because it was very hard to get groceries at the stores,” Diaz said. “That’s how we remained alive for the first couple months.”
Tender Greens, like many other restaurants, relies on sales from these takeout and delivery services to stay afloat, Diaz said.
“I’m just so impressed and humbled by the businesses that are in our district that are making a go of it because it’s not easy and, you know … (business owners) are not making what they were,” Thomas said.
Some restaurants in Westwood have been able to mitigate the effects of the re-tightening of restrictions through the LA Al Fresco program, under which eligible restaurants can apply to create outdoor seating arrangements in parking lots or driving lanes adjacent to the property, he added. This social environment benefits both businesses and residents, Thomas said.
“When people see that type of pedestrian activity and engagement … We think it’s a positive for the Village,” Thomas said.
Both the WVIA and the NWWNC hope to provide assistance or funds to struggling businesses.
“We’ve been working to try to help our businesses and promote them by simplifying their social media presence,” Thomas said. “You know, letting everybody know about the sales or discounts or promotions, or just letting our community know that the Village is still open.”
Lewis said the NWWNC hopes to meet soon with businesses to provide them with information on how to apply for loans and get resources they need during these financially difficult times.
But since these plans have yet to be set in motion, businesses have no option now but to weather the storm, Lewis said.
“There’s just not a lot (businesses) can do except just sit tight and apply for a small business loan,” Lewis said.
Contributing reports by Jordan Wilson, Daily Bruin staff.