A pandemic year, two coffees and an abundance of doubts on the other side | WKZO | All Kalamazoo

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By Ann Saphir and Nathan Frandino

(Reuters) – A year after the pandemic forced Chris and Amy Hillyard to temporarily close their two San Francisco Bay Area cafes, the news is suddenly good.

Covid-19 infections have fallen sharply. The Hillyards and most of the staff at Farley’s East and Farley’s SF have been vaccinated. The company obtained a second round of aid from the federal government, which is larger than the first.

But for all that, the long-term outlook is still unclear, and this is especially the case for the flagship location, nestled among the tall and still empty office buildings of downtown Oakland.

Reuters has been following Hillyards and Farley’s since March 2020 when they laid off all their staff, reporting their reopening six weeks later with a $ 225,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan, their been with help from donors like Golden State Warrior playmaker Steph Curry, and struggles during the winter virus outbreak.

But last month, as coronavirus cases declined and California eased more restrictions, Farley got a second federal grant of $ 300,000. That’s enough to cover the payroll and help fund other parts of the operation for six months, says Chris Hillyard.

But “that does not solve the problem of lack of business in the long term,” he said. “Does that just draw him?” Or does it get us through?

These are questions policymakers hoped not to hear a year after the start of the pandemic. The first rounds of aid last spring were based on the idea that Americans would be able to resume their pre-pandemic activities in a matter of months, without permanent changes in commerce and consumer behavior.

A year later, it is clear that this has not been the case, although a growing number of indicators point to an economy which is beginning to emerge from the crisis.

Employment grew the most in four months in February, and consumers appear to be bracing for a spending spree, with Federal Reserve data showing credit card balances at U.S. banks have increased in each of the years. last five weeks, a first since the pandemic.

People are resuming activities that were largely shunned last year. More than 1.5 million travelers passed security checks at airports on Sunday, the highest number since the national state of emergency was declared last March, according to government data.

In-person meals have made their way, with restaurant diners opening 90% compared to 2019, according to the national OpenTable data form. While many places remain closed or under capacity constraints, states like Florida and Texas with more liberal policies are seeing the numbers soar to 100%.

Yet the question is whether the rising tide will lift all boats? The pandemic has affected the US economy in an extraordinarily uneven way, with employment in recreation and hospitality falling 20% ​​from before the pandemic, compared to an overall drop of 6%.

It also reshaped the physical landscape of the economy, creating what Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom calls a ‘donut’ effect: once bustling city centers have widened as commuters are. switched to working from home.

Bloom and his co-authors in a recent article estimate that even after the pandemic has receded, about one in five working days will be delivered to homes, up from one in 20 before the pandemic.

This change, they wrote, will cut workers’ spending on meals, entertainment and shopping in central business districts by 5% to 10%.

People “spend closer to home and less near their workplace,” says Steven Davis of the University of Chicago Booth School, co-author of the article.

BALLS AND MASKS

This trend has been a lifeline for Farley’s little cafe in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.

Last week, as the bagpipes roared in celebration of the café’s 32nd anniversary, a constant stream of masked residents came in and out of the café. It was the first time the cafe had allowed customers to enter in a year.

Outside, people ate Irish soda bread and sipped coffee under orange, green and white balloons in an outdoor seating area.

Sales at the neighborhood café are around 60% of pre-pandemic levels and are increasing. Last month, the Hillyards hired two new employees there, the first payroll additions since April, when Farley’s reopened after a six-week hiatus at the start of the pandemic.

They are also expanding elsewhere, opening a Farley’s branded location at San Francisco International Airport next month.

In Oakland, as in San Francisco, the spring weather brings out more pedestrians. But with few commuters in their offices, Farley’s East sales are still around 30% of pre-pandemic levels.

That mismatch may have made the task a little less painful when they had to shut down for a few days earlier this month after many staff fell into bad weather after receiving their second dose of the vaccine.

But now everyone at Oakland Cafe is fully vaccinated, and the Hillyards plan to reopen to indoor dining in late April, once local restrictions on restaurant occupancy should ease. They expect to supplement their income with a retail store in a cafe offering denim towels and cafe accessories.

“It’s still a big unknown what kind of occupancy we will have in office buildings once everyone is vaccinated,” said Chris Hillyard. “We don’t know when they’ll be back, or if. “

(Additional report by Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Burns and Steve Orlofsky)

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