During the last month, things in the Tri-Community have been anything but business as usual as the coronavirus has spread its reach from Asia to Europe, into the United States; and has now reached the High Desert. The impact on local businesses has been enormous.
While visiting the Stater Brothers in Phelan on March 17th, there was a very limited supply of bread, expensive red meat, canned beans, pasta, and water. Nearly all the frozen food section was empty. Milk and eggs were in stock, but what remained was being rationed to two per customer as what was left of the canned beans and soups. All paper products, including toilet paper, napkins, and paper towels, were gone. Bleach, baby wipes, surface cleaners, flour, pancake mix, and all the cheap dog food were also gone.
On March 15th, San Bernardino County reported its first case of the disease. By March 31st, Apple Valley recorded one case, Hesperia four, Phelan one, and Victorville seven. Yucaipa led the county with 53 recorded infected, with 183 total cases in the county.
Moe Yousef is the owner of Phelan Propane and has lived locally for over 30 years. He noticed people began panic buying after all the sporting events got canceled. “The very next day, we got overwhelmed with business,” he says. “People started hoarding propane.” His biggest challenge since the rush started has been not to give people the impression that propane will run out. “If we slow down, then people will see we have a crowd. And, crowds bring crowds.” He’s been so worried about this that he even had his employees park away from the business to make the area look less busy. In his opinion, Phelan is not taking the virus seriously. “I’ve been here 30 years, man. I knew these people when they were young,” he says sincerely. “We offer them to stay in their cars, and we’ll help them, and they choose not to,” he explains about his attempt to minimize the spread of germs at his shop. Several senior customers have even gotten upset with him for offering them hand sanitizer after they’ve paid. “In a way, they’re protesting facts.”
Janet McDoutal is a Wrightwood resident and has lived locally for 25 years. Since the panic shopping started on the weekend of Friday the 13th, she has been to several stores attempting to find household essentials. “I’ve been to, probably about five or six Stater Brothers. I’ve been to a handful or two of Walmarts. Anything. Anywhere. Trying to find some stuff for my mom and make sure they don’t have to get out of the house.” Even though she’s traveled all around the High Desert, she’s been unable to find what she’s looking for. “No meats. There’s no rice. There’s no cat food, no milk, water, bread. It’s ridiculous! I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” Her mom is over the age of 75, so she has voluntarily quarantined. What worries McDoutal the most during this crisis is the hoarding. She says it’s been fueled by the TV news channels.
Wendy Acosta is the owner of George’s Barber Shop. During an interview on March 19th, she said she was very worried about the pandemic. On that date, her business had already lost two-thirds of its customers. If things don’t change, within 2-3 months, they could be closing their doors for good. In Acosta’s opinion, the government is not doing enough to help local small businesses. “The help they’re giving us isn’t help if they’re giving us loans,” she states.
By March 25th, all non-essential businesses were ordered closed by the county because of COVID-19. This includes beauty and barber shops, bars, movie theaters, gyms, among others. Businesses that serve food can stay open but can only serve food to go.
What concerns Yousef the most during the crises are our senior citizens. “We all know an old person,” he says. “They just need to take it a little more seriously.”
Photo: Folks Panic Buying Propane at Phelan Propane: Employees at Phelan Propane have been taking the virus seriously. All using gloves, and some even masks to protect themselves. PHOTO BY I.I. Cabreras