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Businesses struggle with closure, hope for the best

What do you do with a restaurant that’s empty because of public-health orders? If you’re Café Bella owner Michael Gonzales, you park your show car in it, as seen here.
Courtesy photo

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — When the governor gives them lemons, business owners in Rio Rancho make lemonade.

In light of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health emergency order on Thursday morning, food establishments were required to no longer serve dine-in customers, but offer only takeout and delivery services.

Hotels are ordered to stay at 50 percent capacity or lower, and shopping malls are closed for the time being.

Some businesses have decided to close until further notice, while others are trying to remain open.

owner Michael Gonzales said he is making the most of the empty space in his café. He moved the Bella show car into the lobby for people picking up coffee to see.

“As a small business, we are fighting to be compliant and to keep that balance of keeping our doors open for our customers and support our employees,” he said.

Gonzales employs six people and has had to make no pay cuts so far. He said he is very blessed to have a loyal customer base.

According to a report by the New Mexico Beverage Association, the industry provides 1,300 jobs to the state. About 9,000 workers in restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theaters and more sell beverages contributing to sales.

The industry has an economic impact of $813.3 million, contributing:

• $67.6 million in wages and benefits,

• $61.9 million in state taxes, and

• $77.4 million in federal taxes.

Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Schalow said COVID-19 is affecting restaurants significantly. He said he is getting reports of revenue dropping 70 to 100 percent.

Of the chamber’s 505 members, 96 percent are small businesses.

Gonzales is vetting a delivery service and will prompt customers to text their coffee orders to 307-8007 for pick up at the coffe shop, 2115 Golf Course Road. He is maintaining normal hours.

The Chill Zone Frozen Yogurt owner Cathy Awe said she signed up for delivery services on DoorDash just in time. She said she understands people’s concerns, but restaurants are cleaner than ever.

“What people don’t realize is, we are just as much at risk as other people. We have increased sanitizing procedures not only to protect our customers, but to protect ourselves,” she said. “We want to stay in business, and we want to continue to serve people.”

Awe hasn’t had to make pay cuts to her employees. However, she has changed the Chill Zone’s hours to noon to 9 p.m.

She said this could change.

Since the government order, Awe has changed her self-serving station to prepackaged servings of frozen yogurt. Customers can also stop by and order a frozen treat to go at 4320 Ridgecrest Drive.

“A locally owned business can absolutely use support, and we are following all the safety guidelines,” she said. “So, I am hoping people will come out of the woodworks and help me stay in business.”

Joe’s Pasta House, Turtle Mountain Brewing Company, 1933 Brewing Company, O’Hare’s Grille & Pub and many more locally owned restaurants are still taking orders, as of press time.

Small Business Development Center Business Advisor Kristin Groves advised owners to contact the SBDC through its website, nmsbdc.org, to see available resources for businesses.

“The information and resources are growing each day. This is good because the focus is on assisting, restoring and delaying any further issues to small businesses as much as possible,” she said. “We are all here to help them get through this trying time.”

NM Small Business Disaster Assistance Resources

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