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Albuquerque’s small-business community drew back the curtain last week on months of struggle as members came out in force to speak against three worker protection ordinances proposed by Albuquerque city councilors.
In written public comments sent to city councilors ahead of a June 29 meeting and provided to the Journal, local business owners from a wide range of industries begged the council to vote down proposed ordinances they said would decimate their already battered margins and in some cases force them out of business or out of the city.
The comments also revealed more details of the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and state emergency orders that forced some to close for several months.
“Business is slowly improving, especially since being able to seat customers for dining in,” Frontier Restaurant chief administrative officer Shannon Rainosek Hurley wrote. “However, with so many events canceled … our sales, like most businesses in Albuquerque, will continue to be negatively impacted for the rest of the year, if not longer.”
Hurley wrote that from March to May, Frontier’s sales were down more than $1 million.
“We are not even close to about where we were last year,” owner Dorothy Rainosek later told the Journal.
Rainosek said that even now with partial dining in resumed, the restaurant is still only seeing a fraction of the customers it did before the pandemic.
The Baca family, which owns the food manufacturer Bueno Foods, which has been in business since 1951, wrote that the pandemic has hit their business hard with substantially decreased sales and increased expenses.
“Normally, most of our sales are to restaurants, and they have been hit incredibly hard during this crisis,” the family wrote. “That business has declined by 80% and many of our restaurant friends in this industry have closed their doors forever, losing their life’s work.”
And Goodman Realty Group, the developer behind Winrock Town Center, wrote that it is looking to take future investments elsewhere. Goodman cited the proposed ordinances, along with crime and poor education, as reasons that the company is looking to stop future investments in Albuquerque.
“We are diversifying and looking to other cities and states in terms of future investments, and I think that’s smart … because of the political environment here,” Darin Sand, Goodman vice president for development, told the Journal.
For more than a decade, the group has invested hundreds of millions redeveloping the once-popular shopping mall into a live-work-play area. But Sand said the local landscape is one in which businesses have to fight to break even while dealing with high taxes and high crime rates. He said the company is planning on continuing projects at Winrock that are in progress, such as a recently announced high-end apartment complex and a new office building. But future investments may be made in other cities.
“We are still committed to our project here, but we are looking more so to other cities and states because we see more opportunity in other cities and states,” Sand said.
There were others.
“I would like to state that I consider myself to be very much a progressive and I treat my employees as if they were my own family,” wrote Shyla Sheppard, founder and CEO of Bow and Arrow Brewing. “I am, however, concerned that these ordinances and the ways that they are written would end up further injuring small businesses like mine and thereby my employees in a time of unprecedented unemployment.”
Sheppard wrote that the brewery is already considering closing.
“Mandated higher wages and policies that could put my (Paycheck Protection Program) forgiveness and general business existence in jeopardy could cement that decision,” she added.
Buck and Faye Buckner, owners of Rain Tunnel Car Spa & Car Spa Flex, described facing “severe cuts to realign revenues with cost to avoid bankruptcy” after sustaining losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars after being deemed a nonessential service.
Tom Willis, proprietor of 66 Diner on Central, wrote that he’s expecting a $100,000 loss for the year.
“Were it not for the PPP loan I obtained, I would already be out of business,” Willis wrote.
The bills that caused the uproar met a mixed fate last Monday. One requiring Albuquerque employers to provide masks to their workers passed, while another that would have required many businesses to give “premium pay” to lower earning workers during the pandemic failed. A third bill, which called for a paid sick leave mandate, was withdrawn, although City Councilors Isaac Benton and Lan Sena plan to reintroduce it in August.
David Kaminski, owner of Medicaid home care agency 1st Premier Home Care, told councilors that if their legislation passed, he would be out of business in less than a month and 165 more people would be unemployed as a result.
“I have not slept,” he wrote.
Journal business editor Gabrielle Porter contributed to this report.