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Local Isla Vista Businesses Open During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Local Isla Vista Businesses Open During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Photos by Noe Padilla

Edward Colmenares
Isla Vista Beat Reporter 

It’s lunch hour, and on a typical day on Pardall Road, the street would be bustling with business, but recently it’s been eerily empty. Go over one more street with hope, follow the quiet Embarcadero del Norte, and you’re standing on another vacant line of pavement, Madrid Road. 

Amongst the apprehensive lack of noise and life that the virus has brought onto our beachside community, there bleakly stands a number of restaurants and shops that have remained with open doors, serving the dwindled college town. 

Taking it day by day, these uneasy business owners are dealing with the severe diminishment of revenue and customer traffic. The student and non-student employees are either moving back home or are having their hours considerably cut, and excessive but necessary sanitation practices are tiresomely implemented every day.

The Bottom Line spoke with some of these establishments over the phone to gain some insight on how their businesses are surviving and if they will continue to operate amid this merciless pandemic.


Woodstock’s Pizza

Photo Courtesy of Glenn Beltz

Luckily, the beer pitcher serving pizzeria is part of an eight store corporate chain and, although not meeting lucrative margins, will still operate on a delivery basis in the coming future of this pandemic. That is not to say that there will be no repercussions for the pizzeria. Most employees are now averaging less than 20 hours a week or are considering leaving work altogether.

The majority of their profit is also no longer in the pizza itself but in the large quantities of alcohol being purchased by anxious students. Nonetheless, the manager, Mr. Nisbett, made it clear that Woodstock’s Pizza will be there for the community, now and in the future. 



Photo Courtesy of The Bottom Line Photo Archives

As of now, Isla Vista’s favorite coffee shop Cajé is not going to close its services but is “right on the cuff,” said manager Troy Yamasaki. Sales are the lowest they have ever been with a rough estimate of an 80 percent decrease. Before the pandemic, the staff was composed of 35 to 40 members, but now, there are only five to seven workers that keep the coffee machines running. Hope is being placed on the government to provide emergency loans and relief funds so that the small cafe may keep operating. 

Yamasaki has created a safe space to order coffee and urges the Isla Vista community to support small businesses of all types in these surreal times.


Rockfire Grill

Photo Courtesy of The Bottom Line Photo Archives

The Bottom Line contacted owner Rishi Syal on a Thursday —  the previous day, he had planned to close the shop indefinitely but ultimately decided to keep it going. The bar and grill is surviving until the end of the day, everyday. Prices on all food and drinks were marked down 50 percent in an attempt to keep the business afloat to little avail. There are only two staff members hectically preparing and expediting orders at any given time.

Open hours have been reduced to only Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Syal is unsure of what the future holds and is doing everything in his power to keep the business functioning. If the situation does not ease, he plans on expanding the grill’s services to the wider Goleta area in hopes of meeting margins.


Bagel Cafe

Photo Courtesy of Britta Gustafson

The popular Saturday morning sandwich bagel shop has seen around an 80 percent drop in general revenue and is speculating a close if things do not go back to normal, said general manager Jacob Root. Their business relies on Grubhub and DoorDash orders with some takeout orders thrown in the mix as well. 

Bagel Cafe staff has shrunk to about 40 percent of its original staff, and there are only a couple of student workers still employed at the location. Overall, there has been around a 60 percent drop in hours for all the workers. 


Sushiya Express

Photo Courtesy of The Bottom Line Photo Archives

Japanese rolls, bowls, and other cuisines have come to a halt in production as restaurant revenue has dipped to about 30 percent of its typical profits, says employee Leanne Lee. Although the current plan is to keep the kitchen open, the owners are now worrying that meeting rent will no longer be viable if current conditions remain. Again, Grubhub is one of the only means of profits and is helping the entire business from going underwater.

“I don’t want to think about it deeply because it makes me depressed,” said Lee when inquired about the restaurant’s future. She also warned the community to stay safe and not party too much.


Varsity Bike Shop

Photo by Noe Padilla

The bicycle shop located in the middle of Pardall is operating in what manager Blake Comalino calls a “ghost town.” The drop in profits has been so severe that there was no adequate number to be mentioned. Although the shop has implemented all sorts of quarantine procedures for social distancing, there have not been more than three customers at a time in the building itself.

There are no student workers employed at the shop, but all employees have seen a serious cut in hours. It is like house arrest everywhere, commented Comalino.


Isla Vista Co-op

Photo by Graeme Jackson

In comparison to all other businesses, the co-op has seen about a 10 percent increase in sales. Perishables like ground beef and eggs have been flying off the shelves as nervous students stock up. Around 30 percent of part-time workers, mostly students, have left, and there has been an increase in hours for those that remained stocking the shelves.

The community-supported grocery store will very likely remain in business as the virus progresses, serving and supplying the community with the essentials. It is as if the community has come closer together, commented Alison Baymiller, the marketing coordinator.

Just like the rest of the world, most Isla Vista businesses are seeing a staggeringly depressing decrease in profits. Small businesses, which are particularly prominent in our community, are the true economic sufferers amid this crisis.

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