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Lockdowns Leave Mom and Pop Shops Fighting for Air

On Thursday, Nov, 19 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked on Zoom by cabinet secretary Dr. David Scrase, announced reasons for tighter restrictions on New Mexico businesses in an attempt to slow the surge in recent COVID-19 cases in New Mexico. If this is your first time hearing about this, let me be the first to welcome you back from Mars and invite you to take a seat.  Over the last 30 days, hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19 have risen 231 percent according to nmhealth.org. The exponential growth of the virus could ultimately put a strain on New Mexico’s healthcare system, and the governor, for better or worse, has instituted a two-week lockdown between Nov. 19 and Nov. 30, just in time for Black Friday shopping. The lockdown allows only essential businesses to operate, but under very limited conditions.  

These types of on-again off-again restrictions have a lot of quarantine-wary business owners and patrons questioning, among other things, what is and is not allowed. After these most recent lockdown announcements, one of the most important questions being asked is what classifies an essential business. An essential business, as identified by the governor during her Thursday address, includes critical services such as grocery stores, health care, pharmacies, child care, hardware, veterinary services, auto and bicycle repair, banks, post offices, laundromats and shelters. Additionally, many “big box” operators were put on notice, and the definition of “retail space” had been clarified to ensure that only the most essential businesses are permitting in-person services. These services, however, may have no more than 75 customers inside or exceed 25 percent of their maximum occupancy at any time, whichever is smaller. Businesses that are required to close their doors during this most recent lockdown include salons, recreational facilities, indoor malls, dine-in only restaurants and gyms, just to name a few.  

When asked about the impact on his small business, Mark Morgenstern, owner of the UFC Gym Rio Rancho and winner of multiple local “Best Of” awards, said his business has lost 25 percent of its membership base and has been forced to put another 15 percent on a freeze. “I do not agree with the recent shutdown of businesses, mostly because of the way it has been handled,” said Morgenstern. “There are businesses that are still open that have no essential reason more than a gym.” In response to ways his gym has complied with restrictions in an attempt to continue to serve his client base, Morgenstern stated that he had to change the way that his business operates. “To start, we limited the number of people that may attend a class or be in the gym at a given time and have taken down 50 percent of our punching bags.” Other compliance and assurance steps included rearranging equipment so members can safely be socially distanced, making multiple sanitizing stations available and disinfecting the entire gym several times a day with an electrostatic fogging machine. Even with these adjustments, Morgenstern feels that his business is fighting an uphill battle. “Most small businesses aren’t making a ton of money,” he said. “The owners do what they do out of love and passion for their business, the people involved and the service that they provide.”  

Similarly, Elijah Cavinder, owner and operator of Kiln It Art Studio, has had to deal with the classification of being a non-essential business. “Under the previous health order, we classified as essential because we could deliver art kits,” Cavinder said. “This go-round, we do not qualify and are looking into creating a permanent to-go pottery option so we can stay open.” Kiln It Art Studio, also a winner of several “Best Of” awards, has been open for five years with Cavinder, a lifelong artist, at the helm from the start. “We would see an average of 500 to 800 people a month pre-COVID; now we’re lucky to see 100.” When asked what advice he had for people who might not fully grasp the impact on local businesses, Cavinder said, “If you have a favorite local business, contact them to see if they sell gift certificates or will accept donations. Buy as little as possible from Amazon, Walmart and Target; those stores will still be here, but the small business might not make it without the support of the community.”

In her call last Thursday, Governor Lujan Grisham acknowledged the hardships that “paused” small businesses will go through during this most recent lockdown and the fact that the list of classified non-essential businesses seems unfair. Without taking these steps, according to the governor in her reference to the exponential growth of the virus, we will overrun our healthcare systems and lose access to critical services. In her call the governor stressed supporting local businesses whenever possible during this time but mostly referred to ordering from restaurants and delivery services. This leaves other businesses deemed non-essential, like the UFC Gym and Kiln It Art Studio, to continue to think of creative ways to keep their clients engaged and their business operational on some level. [ ]

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