Local small business owners adjust to COVID-19

Arlenne Renteria, owner of Needles & Hilos, poses with face masks that she made to meet the local high demand on Friday in Calexico. PHOTO VINCENT OSUNA

BRAWLEY — The recent statewide orders to stay at home and close all non-essential businesses as a precaution against COVID-19 has changed the way all businesses in the state operate.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the commitment and care local small business owners have had toward maintaining their relationships with their customers.

Consequently, many Imperial Valley small business leaders have recently changed what they offer, or how they go about selling their items, based on the public safety rules being enforced.

While Sylvia’s Little Treasures on Main Street here had its doors closed to the public since March 20, owner Sylvia Castaneda hasn’t stopped keeping up with her customers.

The shop, which sells vintage, antique and collectable items, has been using the power of the internet.

Castaneda has been offering her customers the option to receive an invoice through email for the items they purchase.

Customers can then drive by the store and pick up the items, or have them dropped off at their homes — all of which Castaneda does while wearing a face mask and protective gloves.

To keep customers who enjoy finding items on sale happy during the store’s closure, Sylvia’s Little Treasures has been posting spontaneous item sales on its Instagram account.

For example, the store will post that a certain item is 20 percent off, and if a customer responds to the offer before it expires, he or she will get the deal.

With the statewide stay-at-home order in place, Castaneda said she has found that items such as school desks, coffee tables and patio sets have been in demand — all of which the shop already had in stock.

“Even though we’re in this crisis, people still want to be comfortable in their home,” she said.

Nine vendors have their own merchandise for sale within Sylvia’s Little Treasures.

With the shop’s doors being closed, those vendors have also been out of any sales.

“Everybody is trying to figure out what we’re all going to do,” Castaneda said. “Now they’re just waiting to see if I’ll open up.”

Castaneda said she’s never dealt with something as severe as the ongoing COVID-19 closure in six years in business.

“Even in summertime when it’s 100 and something degrees out, there’s still people coming in,” she said.

On Monday, Castaneda had to pay the light bill for her space. Along with that, she’s been able to work out a deal with her landlord for rent.

“I kind of worked out something where I can pay him half now, and try during the month to make sales so I could pay him the other half,” she said. “As of right now, every penny counts. I’m just remaining hopeful.”

Paying rent for an office space hasn’t been a major concern for Arlenne Renteria, owner of Needles & Hilos in Calexico.

Aside from her full-time job, she runs her clothing and tailor business from home.

After recently trying unsuccessfully to find face masks to purchase at stores in the Valley, Renteria decided to take matters into her own hands.

She tapped into the stacks of fabric she had in her sewing room at home, and began to make face masks for herself and her family members.

As her father had a liver transplant six years ago, Renteria felt it was especially important that he has one during this time.

However, looking at the bigger picture, Renteria realized that, if she had trouble finding face masks to purchase locally, then other Valley residents are likely facing the same issue.

With plenty of cotton fabric to spare, Renteria on Wednesday began selling face masks on her business’ Facebook page at $3 for one or $5 for two.

She explained that making the masks isn’t too difficult. A child-sized mask takes about 10 minutes, while a full-sized mask for hospital staff takes about 20 minutes.

Throughout her 10 years of running her business, Renteria has made dresses from scratch and tailored clothing of all types, but never a face mask.

She said she was especially motivated to take action after seeing how hospitals in cities such as Cincinnati and New York have had a low stock in face masks, and how disposable masks have helped stopped the spread of COVID-19 in China.

“Hopefully these work and help people,” she said.

Miguel Flores, owner of STA Cell Phone and Table Repair, has been making house calls.

As COVID-19 precautions have come into effect within the past weeks, Flores has changed his business model in an attempt to keep the community safer.

While his storefront located on Main Street in Brawley is still open for walk-ins, he’s decided to utilize his mobile service van even more now.

With that, he’s decided to not charge extra for mobile services and offered one-on-one consultations as an effort to maintain social distancing. He’s also decided to not increase any repair prices at this time.

“We believe our business is essential,” he said. “I just didn’t feel it was fair to the people right now, to sit there and try to take more out of their pockets than what they’re already putting out. Some people aren’t even taking anything in.”

Flores has also extended his hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“People need their phones to communicate with family members to find out how they’re doing,” he said. “And not only that, but to call for help if they need to, so we’re here to help them as much as we can to keep their phones running.”

With the stay-at-home order in mind, Wendy Luevano, owner of Simply at Home in El Centro, has decided to cater to her customers in a unique way.

While she closed the doors of her shop, located on Main Street in El Centro, on March 20, she began on Friday to open her shop by way of appointment only.

“It ain’t just about me making money,” Luevano said. “It’s just to give people something to do.”

Nevertheless, Luevano is enforcing the rule that any customer who is sick cannot come to the shop.

Luevano estimated that it would easily take an hour to look through all the items in her shop, which is in fact a retail store with all brand new items.

She hopes that it serves as a break for her customers who wish to spend some time away from being inside their homes.

And while she’s been looking out for her customers, Luevano acknowledged she still has responsibilities of her own that she has to cater to, such as paying rent.

“I don’t think I’ll last long keeping this closed,” she said.

Staff Writer Vincent Osuna can be reached at vosuna@ivpressonline.com or 760-337-3442.

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