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I-Team goes in-depth on the closure of dozens of local businesses due to the pandemic

You may have never dined at Evzin in Palm Springs and Palm Desert,
grabbed a drink at 'Sip Coffee House and Juice Bar' in Indio, or skated at "Desert Ice Castle" in Cathedral City but these are just a few of the dozens of businesses throughout the valley that permanently shut down during the pandemic, taking with them numerous jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.

The I-Team discovered at least 40 valley businesses that closed within the last eight months.

This includes a variety of restaurants, retailers, and hotels stretching across nearly every city. The majority were in Palm Springs and Palm Desert areas that depend heavily on tourism.

The valley's business leaders worry that the closures will soon get much worse. Many businesses are at a tipping point: try to hold on, or cut their losses, something a growing number of them are doing.

"Depending on where we are in a tier, it's thousands of jobs that can be gone in just one instant," said Katie Stice, president of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce.

Peter: "What should have been done differently to help these businesses financially survive.

"The larger box stores have all been open. This entire time. And all of our small businesses had to close," Stice responded. "If they have the same guidelines in place as a large business, why weren't they allowed to be open? It's not fair."

Stice also cited another factor, not enough financial assistance.

"Funding is gone, family loans are not an option anymore, credit cards are maxed out. And so people are finding themselves at the end of their rope at this point," Stice said.

"The loans just weren't even close to being what was needed," said Ted Hane, manager of the Mary Pickford Theater in Cathedral City.

The Mary Pickford Theater is still open, but not allowed to operate indoors since the community moved back to the state's most restrictive tier. Hane is concerned that if things don't change soon, the theater will also be forced to permanently close.

Peter: "Put us in your shoes right now. How difficult is this situation?"

"This situation is dire," Hane responded. "I have employees that have no hours, no money, no income. We have people that are standing in food lines that have never had to do that in their entire life."

Hane continued, "I can't survive if I can't stay open. It's not possible to just keep paying bills over and over and over."

Hane says he understands the importance of coronavirus safety measures, which is why the theater put up plexiglass at the concession counter, installed a new ventilation system, and increased sanitation procedures, but he says the closures and restrictions are inconsistent and go too far.

"Why are we being punished? What is it exactly specifically you can show me that I'm part of the problem," Hane said. "People's sanity is part of the equation, and I think it's easily forgotten."

To help keep going, the theater created a drive-in that can fit about 50 cars but Hane worries that's still not enough.

"There is a very very serious deficit that cannot just be easily erased. We have lost well over three-million dollars this year. How do you get that back?" Hane said.

The issues of lockdowns, business closures and unemployment are felt in every Valley city and community. For example, in this part of Palm Springs, small-business revenue has fallen by 80 percent. And with tourism down and major events canceled, the financial struggle is expected to last long after the pandemic ends.

"We're not just looking at a year or two. We're looking at a lot of permanent damage in our community. And I don't think we've come close to seeing what that damage looks like," Stice said.

Peter: "Do you think that a lot of these businesses will be able to bounce back?"

"What's going to determine that is what tier we're in, and that's where the community frankly can help with testing and shopping local," Stice said.

"For so many people this was their dream. To start their business, to build their business within the community, to be part of the community. These are the people that also donate to soccer teams and the non-profits and they volunteer, sit on boards. And now they're having to re-think everything," Stice said.

According to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, if current restrictions remain in place through the end of the year, valley restaurants and hotels are facing closure rates near 50 percent. For brick and mortar retail shops that prediction is 20 percent.

You can get the latest local coronavirus updates at KESQ.com/Coronavirus

Coronavirus / I-Team / Investigative / News Headlines / Top Stories

Peter Daut

KESQ News Team

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