‘I’m upset. I’m sad. I’m nervous.’: Service industry reels as another stay-at-home order kicks in

Jason Burdick cleans up Jaimie Rivoir at Stranded Beauty Bar.
With the stay-at-home order looming, final pre-holiday haircuts were procured en masse on Thursday as Jason Burdick cleans up Jaimie Rivoir at Stranded Beauty Bar.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

From hair salons to the outdoor dining, small business owners are struggling. Stranded Beauty Bar in Seabright and Venus Spirits on the Westside are two examples of businesses pushed to the brink.

On Friday morning, at what should be the busiest time of the year at her business, Roxann Burdick will not be going into the salon she owns with her husband, Jason.

Stranded Beauty Bar on Seabright Avenue in Santa Cruz is one of hundreds of businesses that will be forced to close because of the new stay-at-home order for the Bay Area region.

While some businesses are allowed to stay open at reduced capacity — 20% for most retailers — others in the service industry must close altogether for at least three weeks during a holiday period that is typically lucrative for them.

Those include restaurants, hair salons and barbershops, tattoo parlors, bars, wineries, waxing and piercing studios, nail salons, movie theaters and massage therapists.

“Frustrated is a word I’d use,” said Burdick who has been working as a hair stylist for 23 years. “I’m upset. I’m sad. I’m nervous.”

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The stay-at-home order hurts, she said, but it’s only the latest bad development in a year that has been a wipe-out financially. Even before the order closed her salon, business was way down, thanks to the widespread ripple effects of the ongoing pandemic.

During the holidays, said Burdick, people visit family, meaning they want to look their best in family photos, meaning there is usually a high demand for haircuts in November and December.

“People are not seeing their families, not taking pictures. They don’t want to go out. Everybody’s mental health is declining.”

Like many businesses in the local service economy, Stranded was doing just fine in early 2020, before the first wave of shutdowns took place.

Fine-tuning at Stranded.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We were flourishing,” said Burdick, a mother of three. “Our phone was ringing off the hook.” Now, she said, her family is $20,000 in debt and behind in rent as they now will be forced to close for at least three weeks.

She feels that hair salons, already subject to strict health and safety regulations, are being unfairly singled out — that the sanitation and cleanliness practices that are part of the salon industry have made salons safer than the general public assumes them to be. “I basically blame the non-science behind the numbers,” she said.

The shutdown throws the Burdicks’ family life into chaos. Roxann Burdick is now entertaining doubts that she and her husband can rebuild a once-thriving local business. In recent months, she has labored to push back against the public’s fear of visiting salons.

“Everyone has their different levels of fear, and I feel in Santa Cruz, the fear level is very deep. I don’t know what to do or say. I’m trying to stay positive, trying to keep clients, trying to provide my children with a normal life. That’s all I can do.”

‘Time to take a break’

Sean Venus was finally able to open his restaurant in mid-August.
(Crystal Birns/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sean Venus let out a deep sigh — some 2020 stress breathing at its heaviest.

“I think we’re done pivoting for awhile,” said the owner of Venus Spirits on the Westside. “For now it’s time to take a break.”

Venus let his employees know Thursday that, similar to the first state-mandated COVID-19 stay-at-home order in March, they would be having to drastically reduce staff, going from 45 down to 10.

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“We just need to stop the bleeding as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re losing too much money.”

Venus had spent his year getting one the most ambitious culinary endeavors in Santa Cruz off the ground. He finally was able to open his distillery in mid-August, and September and October showed the potential of Venus Spirits as not just a distillery and tasting room, but also a top-flight dining experience, inside and out.

Crowds were swarming the unique setting that Venus and his wife, Grace, had created in the large parking lot off High Street.

Venus' outdoors setting
(Crystal Birns/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

But even before the news of another stay-at-home order came down this week, a cold fall and move back to the purple tier with only outside seating was taking a big bite out of business.

“It’s hard to figure out a business plan when things are ever changing,” he said. “When we had 25% capacity indoor dining, it was working for us. Since we went into purple, it’s been awful. Business was cut in half immediately.”

The fact Venus also has distribution in the mix — and that December is typically one of the top months for spirits purchasing — is a saving grace. His organic small-batch whiskey, gin, aquavit, rum and blue agave spirits remain highly popular.

Venus' all-too-brief foray into indoor dining.
(Crystal Birns/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

But Venus doesn’t think the county will get back to outdoor dining until at least March.

“It just kills you to have to reinvent yourself over and over,” he said.