On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
When the coronavirus shut down businesses across the region, many pivoted to digital offerings — from gyms hosting online workouts to barber shops giving virtual haircuts. As D.C. begins Phase Two of reopening, non-essential retail businesses can open their doors to a limited number of customers, and essential businesses are expanding their in-person offerings. But will customers come?
We’ll hear how the pandemic has affected the bottom lines of local businesses and see what safety measures they’re taking to protect customers and staff from COVID-19.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Lesley Bryant Owner and Founder, Lady Clipper Barber Shop
- Paul Ruppert Executive Director, Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street; @PaulWRuppert
- Brian McGee Owner and Head Training Coach, FIT360°DC
- Ana Cajina Owner and Manager, Frugalista
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Businesses continue to slowly reopen in D.C. Gyms can welcome a limited amount of guests. And clothing stores can open at partial capacity. Barbershops and salons can continue to see clients as longs as certain social distancing measures are met. But are enough customers coming through the doors? What does the financial future look like for local businesses especially if they haven't been able to pay rent for the past three months?
KOJO NNAMDIToday we will hear from business owners about navigating reopening. Joining me now is Paul Ruppert, Executive Director of Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street. He's also owned and operated several businesses over the past 20 years. Paul, thank you for joining us.
PAUL RUPPERTThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIPaul, tell us about Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street. How do you work with businesses and where is exactly Upper Georgia Avenue?
RUPPERTSo the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street is a new Main Street program that just started back in October. And it covers the corridor from Eastern Avenue down to Missouri Avenue. So the top portion of the city. The Main Street program -- we're one of 24 throughout the city that are funded in part by the city through the Department of Small and Local Business Development funding. And we work with local businesses both to help support existing small businesses. And then also we work to attract new businesses to the corridors.
NNAMDIHow have businesses on Upper Georgia Avenue been affected by the coronavirus? Are there any businesses that have shuttered for good and any that have been doing particularly well?
RUPPERTWe've have a couple that have shuttered for good. Most have closed down temporarily and are in the process of reopening. One that's actually done particularly well is our D.C. Medical Supply, which is across from the Walmart there right near Missouri Avenue. And there's so much demand for personal protective equipment right now. So they're actually doing well. Most every other business is having a hard time. Their revenue is down anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent. So it's a really difficult time to be a small business, but one thing about these small business owners and owners throughout the city, they are resilient, hard-working and passionate.
NNAMDIWhat has Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street been doing to help those businesses navigate the coronavirus?
RUPPERTSo recently that assistance has fallen into two categories. One is we have a grant program that we manage. And so we handed out grants to seven different businesses along the corridor in a competitive process. And we're about to launch a second grant program that will launch next week. And that money can go for things like rental assistance. It can go for things like renovation of buildings. And then the other area that we are helpful that we do our work is our technical assistance where we get in there into the nitty gritty with the business owners. We identify what the challenge is that they're facing. And then we work to help them navigate those challenges.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Lesley Bryant, the Owner and Founder of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. Lesley Bryant, thank you for joining us.
LESLEY BRYANTThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhen businesses were first forced to close in March, because of the coronavirus, many pivoted to creative solutions to keep their business going in some form. Lady Clippers started giving virtual haircuts. What did that entail?
BRYANTVirtual haircuts were basically where I walked our clients through, some new, some old, step by step on how to maintain their hair while we were on lockdown. So it was a video call and whatever the client had at home we used to kind of trim and neaten up their hair just so they could feel better during the lockdown.
NNAMDISo if the client had clippers, did the client do this virtually with you themselves or if they had a roommate or a partner did the partner play your role?
BRYANTAll of the above. So I did have clients that had roommates or partners that helped. And then I also had clients that I guided step by step, one on one.
NNAMDII would have fallen into the latter category, but I never got to use my clippers. But that's a whole other long story. Joining us now is Brian McGee, the Founder and Head Training Coach of FIT360DC, a functional training facility and gym. Brian, thank you for joining us.
BRIAN MCGEEGood afternoon. Thank you.
NNAMDIBrian, trainers at 360FITDC did offer virtual training and also during phase one outdoor classes. What was that like?
MCGEEWell, we converted to outdoor classes immediately after the shutdown, and people were able to participate outside. We were as careful as we knew to be in that very early stage with -- I think the limit was 10 people outside congregating. We kept it to eight. We were very strict with masks and distancing. We brought very minimal equipment and kept everybody in sort of in their same area not really shifting around to a lot of different stations and such. So we were fortunate enough to do that in the beginning.
NNAMDISo that's what you did in the beginning, Brian. What were the outdoor classes like?
MCGEEWell, the outdoor classes were -- it was first of all good to have everybody come back. Everybody felt relieved to get out of the house. And they have been keeping up with us with our virtual classes online. We had pretty much done classes through Facebook, our Facebook page. So it was good for everybody to actually come out and work with some real equipment. So that was gratifying. The classes of, you know, once again a little different than what we would normally do, but it was still a very challenging experience for them and very much appreciative by the members.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Ana Cajina, Owner and Manager of Frugalista, a secondhand clothing store in Mount Pleasant. Ana Cajina, thank you for joining us.
ANA CAJINAThank you, Kojo, for having us in here. Thank you.
NNAMDIFrugalista was completely shut down until June 22 when D.C. entered the second phase of reopening. You could have opened for curbside pickup during phase one of reopening, but you chose not to. How come?
CAJINAThat is correct. It's because we work a little different than other places, because the customers are used to come try on clothes, see the material because some people are allergic to polyester. So they needed to go in details and see every piece of clothes they needed to buy. So the curbside pickup it was not an option for me.
NNAMDIThat's very interesting. Lesley Bryant, Lady Clipper Barber Shop could have opened during phase one, but you waited a bit. Walk us through your reopening process. What did you take into consideration?
BRYANTSo we actually opened on June 9 about a week or so after we were allowed to reopen. And the reason I waited is because I wanted to make sure that we had all of the cleaning equipment needed, personal protective equipment and signage needed to reopen. So I really wanted to make sure everything was in place. That we got our shop properly disinfected and so forth. So I didn't want to rush into it without a game plan.
NNAMDISo you also talked with your staff about reopening. Were they excited to come back? What concerns did they have?
BRYANTWell, my staff, they were very excited to come back, but also cautious. They have families and they wanted to make sure that they could come back, of course, earn their living. But they didn't want to also, you know, risk getting ill. So I spoke to them about the steps that we were going to take. And, you know, try to assure them that, you know, if anything happened that I would do whatever it took to make sure that we were moving forward safely.
NNAMDISo were they excited about that and what are the steps that you took?
BRYANTSo the steps that we took is we're are requiring of every barber to have face coverings. We also have face shields. We also ask the clients to come in with their face masks. When clients come up the steps they're greeted with sanitation -- at our sanitation station where we're asking people to use the hand sanitizer before entering our suite. Barbers are cleaning clippers and all of the tools before and after each client is seen. And also thoroughly wiping down our barber chairs. And we have also removed our waiting area.
NNAMDIDo you trim beards?
BRYANTNo, we do not. Not at this point.
NNAMDISo that everybody has to keep ...
BRYANTWe do not want any clients removing their mask.
NNAMDIThe mask has to stay on all the time. We got a message from Lisa who says, "I do karate three times a week and it's been on Zoom since March. It's just not the same. But I'm not comfortable going back into the karate studio yet. It is a challenge." When, Brian McGee, when Lisa says doing it virtually is just not the same, did you get that same kind of complaint from some of your clients?
MCGEEWell, we did get that response. I mean, it's clearly -- we didn't necessarily interpret it as much of a complaint. It was just the way it was, but clearly the environment that we have and most other gyms have is specifically conducive to the types of exercises or activities that are our businesses are setup for. And so that's why people come outside of their house instead of staying in. So when everything has to convert back inside we do our best virtually to try to replicate as much as of the activity inside that they can do as possible. And in many cases are able to achieve very similar success.
MCGEEBut it's very difficult. It's a challenge to do in a private setting, in a solo setting. You know, usually these types of things are best achieved in many times in groups or just with the environments or the equipment that they're used to. So that was, you know, a very present challenge for a lot of our members.
NNAMDIWe heard from Erin, the Owner of Mindy's Catering in the Palisades, sent us a message on Twitter, "I own a small catering business in D.C. We have been in business for 20 years and have seen nothing like this before. The tragic events of 911 left many people not wanting to have celebratory events even after they could. Government shutdowns and the Great Recession of 2008 are just nothing in comparison to this shutdown. We have come up with a new business plan to deliver meals for two to eight to private homes. But that only makes up about 30 percent over our usual food sales."
NNAMDIRestaurants seem to be front and center during this -- having these concerns. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. Still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing what reopening looks like for D.C. businesses and we'd love to hear from you. Let's go to Heather in Adams Morgan. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERYes. There's one restaurant right off Columbia Road on 18th Street that is participating in the 18th Street Streatery. It has large signs saying wear masks. Yet this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday almost no people seated in the restaurants about three blocks and much less the people walking in the middle were wearing masks. So the question is how can servers be protected if a restaurant asks people to wear masks and they're not wearing masks?
NNAMDIWell, it would seem to me that the restaurant has to have a way of enforcing that policy. Heather, what you're saying is that the restaurant has the policy and simply was not enforcing it?
HEATHERWell, that's a question. The D.C. government has launched a streatery that not only creates a tremendous diversion for two major cross city bus routes. But there's no provisions really for who is to support the public health request of wearing masks. And they're going to probably have many more people both eating and milling around the middle of a closed street this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So it's a question of jurisdiction. Whose role is it to make sure that people wear masks? And for those of us in the neighborhood, there's a dramatically higher ratio of people not wearing masks to wearing masks on the other days of the week.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. I know, Paul Ruppert, there's been some talk about opening streets or sidewalks on Upper Georgia Avenue so that restaurants can provide more outside dining. Can you give us an update on that?
RUPPERTYeah. So the city has been working with neighborhoods across the city to see what portions of corridors might be a good fit for either closing all or part of that corridor. Unfortunately Georgia Avenue since it's a primary transit corridor doesn't qualify for one of those streateries. But the first one is as Heather mentioned when she called in was in Adams Morgan this past weekend.
RUPPERTThey're also looking at I think Upshur Street in Petworth and also I think 7th Street Southeast as other possibilities. And of course, 11th Street has had some of the restaurants there have taken over some parking spaces and have expanded their seating into those parking spaces. And I know that's happened in other areas, other neighborhoods as well. So that's a process that you have to work with the DDOT and the city.
NNAMDICan you tell us what safety precautions have businesses on Georgia Avenue been taking as they reopen, Paul?
RUPPERTSure. So through the city, through the mayor and Councilmember Brandon Todd we were able to distribute PPE, personal protective equipment. So that included masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning solution. We gave out over 140,000 masks to the businesses along Georgia Avenue so that they could use those both for staff and for any customers who are coming in who don't have a mask. Other things that a lot of the businesses have done is they've installed Plexiglas to separate the customer from the staff. And then of course in restaurants they have either removed tables or they've blocked off tables so that there's a six foot separation between customers now that they're allowed to come in and sit inside.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, if you're going to be eating in a restaurant you do have to remove your mask in order to have your meal in that restaurant. What resources, Paul, do businesses have access to either from non-profits or from the D.C. government?
RUPPERTSo the Department of Small and Local Business Development is really the primary force here. And they work with us, with the Main Street. So I think the first step for any business who needs support would be to identify if they're inside a main street area. And if they have a question about it I would be happy for them to send me an email and I can send them to the proper Main Street. So my email address is email@example.com. And if they just send me an email and they let me know where they are located then I'd be happy to send them either to the proper Main Street or to someone at DSLBD.
NNAMDIBrian McGee, you held your first indoor class on Monday. How did you setup your gym to ensure social distancing is possible and that few germs are spread among guests?
MCGEEWell, one of the main things that we have done to address that is to address the air circulation within the gym. So we've made a significant investment in a very powerful high tech air purification system on both ends of the gym. One each is able to take care of 200 -- I'm sorry 2,000 square feet and we have two units that are able to accommodate to our 2500 square foot facility. So we have those running 24-7. In addition to that we have multiple sanitation stations throughout the gym. We have floor markings to designate six and 10 foot spacing between members. We have each station that anybody is in through classes setup with their own set of towels and hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray.
MCGEEEverybody has their own piece of equipment that they are responsible for, and that we wipe down before and they wipe down after. And they're able to stay within their own area. So we've made -- as well as also upgrading our filter system through our HVAC system. So we've made many significant measures to try to ensure the safety of our members.
NNAMDIDo people coming to the gym need to wear masks?
MCGEEYes. They do. Well, for gyms specifically they need to come in wearing masks. And then while they're working out, we simply -- we strongly encourage them to keep their mask on, and only if they feel like they are have difficulty breathing will we recommend either lowering their mask for a brief period of time in order to catch their breath and then putting it back on. Otherwise masks are definitely required to enter the gym. They are encouraged while you're working out, and only during heavy exertion and with once again maintaining space inside is it allowed to sort of lower your mask to be able to catch your breath during exercises.
MCGEEAnd while we've been able to do that, we've had a significantly limited amount of people within the gym. I think the first couple of classes we only had like maybe three or two or three, which is exactly where we need to be right now for the space that we have.
NNAMDIWere members eager to come back and take in-person classes and workout inside or some still reluctant to come back?
MCGEEI'd say yes to both. So there's definitely a percentage or people that are willing to, you know, understand the measures that we've taken to keep them safe. And, you know, members are looking forward to coming back. But there are definitely still people that are more inclined to stay outside. We have actually more of our classes out ...
NNAMDIBrian, you seemed to have dropped off for a second there. While we're getting Brian McGee back, Lesley Bryant, surely you can't stay six feet apart when you're giving someone a haircut. What safety measures are you taking especially for customers who are waiting?
BRYANTSo we don't have a waiting room anymore. We're asking clients to come one by one and on time so that they -- to reduce the traffic in the shop. Our barber chairs, we have three chairs in our shop. They're spaced more than six feet apart. And also we can't stand six feet apart from the person that we're cutting. But we are equipped with our face mask and our face shields.
NNAMDIWe heard from Robin on Tweeter who says, "There was a streatery on 20th Street Dupont Circle. I walked passed it and there was much more room between the tables than there were in Adams Morgan on Sunday." We've heard that complaint about Adams Morgan. The other issue in Adams Morgan that we've heard about is that buses now have to reroute, because they can't go down 18th Street anymore. And people feel that that's putting a lot of working people, people who are in many ways on the front lines of the pandemic, but are not driving cars -- are putting them at a disadvantage. We might hear some more about that later.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. If you've called stay on the line. If you'd like to 800-433-8850. Do you wish stores were taking more safety precautions than they already do? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing what reopening looks like for D.C. businesses. And I'm mildly surprised that not more of you are calling. Are you afraid to pick up the phone? It's not as dangerous as going out without a mask, so you can do it right now.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Paul Ruppert, Executive Director of Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street. He's also owned and operated several businesses over the past 20 years. Lesley Bryant is the Owner and Founder of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. Brian McGee is the Founder and Head Training Coach at FIT360DC, a functional training facility and gym. And Ana Cajina is the Owner and Manager of Frugalista, a secondhand clothing store in Mount Pleasant. Lesley Bryant, how comfortable have your customers been with returning or are they coming in as regularly as they used to?
BRYANTClients have been very vocal and excited about coming back to get their haircuts. They just can't wait to get that feel good feeling. And as far as returning clients I would say we're about 40 percent back to as far as customer coming back to the shop. And I think as restrictions ...
NNAMDIWe seem to have lost Lesley Bryant at this point. So on to Ana Cajina. Ana, what safety precautions have you taken upon reopening to keep your staff and customers safe?
CAJINAWell, we started like weeks before we actually reopened. We started eliminating racks so there would be a better flow for customers so they can keep their distance. We placed decals and poster around the store to encourage the customers to keep their distance. We put Plexiglas on the register. We bought PPE for our employees. We also have a couple of stations for hand sanitizer.
CAJINAWe ask our customers to wear a mask when they come in and to clean their hands before entering the store. We also -- we have a log for the employees and we take a temperature every day. So we are make sure that we don't have any fever so we don't expose the other two employees or the customer. So every day we take our own temperature before we start working.
NNAMDIDo you have a specific process for clothes that customers have tried on to keep those clothes sanitary?
CAJINAYes. We actually -- we try to do our best on that. After the customer tried their clothes on, we put it in the bag with alcohol wipes, which is clean. And there is not enough data about, you know, saying the virus spread through clothes, but we -- this is a new virus, we don't know, but as a precaution so we took that and we keep it for 20 minutes in the bag and we wipe them with alcohol.
NNAMDIHere now is Carl in Adams Morgan. Carl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLHi. I'm a senior in the high-risk category. I'm very frightened about going out and I've had bad experiences at least one of the supermarkets in D.C. with employees not wearing masks. Now I'm going out to Bethesda to shop for my groceries, because I found a good store that's not crowded and I can avoid being around people not wearing masks.
CARLMy friend who lives over near Eastern Market, just, you know, half block from that Eighth Street restaurant corridor, tells me people are going to the restaurants there and not wearing masks. And I haven't checked out Adams Morgan, but your other caller from Adams Morgan says the same thing's happening here on 18th Street.
CARLLet's see, I've called the mayor's office three times late in the afternoon but during business hours, and I have not been able to talk to anybody there. Twice the phone just rang and nobody answered, and once I left a recorded message and no one called back. I called my city council person here...
NNAMDIWhat were you calling them to say?
CARLI wanted to tell them I was very concerned, especially after all the -- I don't have a TV. I haven't seen pictures of all the demonstrations, but I heard a lot of people weren't wearing masks at the demonstrations. I think we're going to have a resurgence here in D.C. like they're having out in Arizona and Texas and Florida now, because all these people are going to the demonstrations and putting the virus into the air. And I think the same thing's going to be happening with all these young people going to restaurants.
NNAMDIWell, given that you say you're in the high-risk category, I do understand your precautions. So thank you for calling and try to stay as safe as you can. Of course, when people go into restaurants to eat, as I said earlier, they do have to take their masks off to eat, or to drink for that matter. So that's going to happen in restaurants once there, however, socially distant is considered a little safer. Here is Doug in Alexandria. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGThanks for taking my call. I am an entertainment industry gig worker for over 38 years in the District and beyond. And what I see happening is really disconcerting to me, because basically everything reopening with the levels of infection we have going on with the country, basically I'm just seeing the amount of time I'm going to be out of work just lengthening and lengthening. I'm not willing to even go back to work at this point. It's not safe.
DOUGAnd I think this ties into absolute negligence on the part of our leadership of our elected officials. I just don't understand why we can't grasp that we can just stop for a minute and take some time and take the time we need to get through this. We can seem to have trillions of dollars go into Wall Street and investment and all this B.S. and we can't -- we have no leadership now. This is -- it's insanity. That's all I have to say.
NNAMDIBut how has it affected you financially, Doug?
DOUGIt's been absolutely terrifying, absolutely terrifying. Luckily my significant other is in the school system, although that's another terrifying thing that we're coming up with this fall. I mean, we have to take care of elders in our family and they're talking about going back to normal classes. And my other has put in insane amounts of time coming up with online lesson plans and things like that. And it's...
NNAMDIBut you haven't been going out shopping or anything like that.
DOUGOnly as absolutely necessary, Trader Joe's was a good place to go for a while, because they were doing 20 people at a time and were very good about washing carts and things like that. I can't really afford to pay someone else to do my grocery shopping for me so it's gloves, mask. As soon as you get out of the store you throw the gloves away. You go home, you shower, you got to wipe down all your food and stuff like that. And I don't think people realize how serious this actually is. And it comes from our top leadership being uninformed by our highest people in the government. It's complete negligence. It's insane.
NNAMDIOnto Kevin in Ashton. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEVINHi, Kojo. I'm a great fan of your show. Thank you for having me on. I own a restaurant in downtown D.C. right M and 20th.
KEVINAnd recently we just reopened. This is a new restaurant. We just built it recently and a week later COVID hit. So we barely had time to even get to be known in the community.
KEVINHowever, we're open for phase two and, Kojo, it is -- people are not coming and we'd be lucky if we see ten people a day, Dupont is still really, really concerned about coming out to restaurants. The restaurants are really going to struggle. I don't know how phase three's going to look like, but phase two clearly has not shown that people are out there like that. This is -- and on our street, because on our street all the restaurants are still closed. I mean...
KEVIN...very few that are functional. But I just call in to say that, you know ...
NNAMDIPeople are not coming out.
KEVINPeople are not coming out. I mean, I don't know if it's just because we are new. It's as new restaurant, new kind of restaurant we just built called Swahili Village. It's going through a very, very tough time, and, of course, we didn't PPP, because we were opened -- we opened just a week before COVID. Business out there are really struggling right now. I just wanted to make that comment.
NNAMDIThank you. Paul Ruppert, you know the challenges of running a small business and how tight the margins can be. Over the years you've opened a number of restaurants and shops, among them Petworth Citizen, Slims Diner, Upshur Street Books and several others along Upshur Street. First, in response to what we just heard from our caller, what are you hearing from restaurant owners on Upper Georgia Avenue?
RUPPERTSo it's interesting, because the -- well, restaurants are suffering all over the city, but some pocket's suffer more. So, for instance, with Kevin's new restaurant being downtown at 20th and M, he's missing out on all of the office workers who used to come in there every day to that neighborhood. For us up on Upper Georgia Avenue, we depend more on the residents that are in and around Georgia Avenue. So we -- so our -- the customer base hasn't disappeared like downtown, but it is being careful, as we've heard from these other callers. So they don't come out as much or they come out, but they only get takeout. So the restaurants really are struggling.
NNAMDIAna Cajina, how has business been since you reopened? I know that retail stores have to limit the number of customers. Have you had to turn people away?
CAJINANo, not really. But it's been very slow, more than I expected. So knew it was going to be hard in the beginning just having, like, 50 percent of capacity, which for me would've been between 12 people and 15 people at the store, according to the feet square that we have. And I was ready to put a canopy outside if people needed to wait, but that hasn't been the case.
NNAMDIYour store was completely closed for three months so you haven't had any revenue stream. What did this mean for you paying rent? Have you negotiated an agreement with your landlord?
CAJINAActually we have. We've been talking to them and I can say they're trying to help, but they want their money no matter what, no matter what. And us working just 50 percent of what we used to do, talking about transaction, maybe we sold 50 a day. Now we're doing like 18, 20 a day, so that really impact us.
CAJINAAnd we'll see what's going to happen in six months from now, because the help that the government gave us, the PPP loan, it was only for two months. And basically that was only -- was for employees. And we could use it a little bit there, a little bit here but it was for employees, and that help was only for two months.
NNAMDILesley Bryant, what financial toll has the pandemic had at Lady Clipper Barber Shop?
BRYANTI've been very fortunate to one, have a really good relationship with my landlord. But I also had personal savings that I was able to stay on top of my rent for the shop. So my situation is a little bit different. I did get help from the PPP to help me in the months that I was closed.
NNAMDIBrian McGee, what has been the financial hit on FIT360DC?
MCGEEWell, my story is not dissimilar to the rest of the panel. We have taken a significant hit in our membership and our revenue. And we, as well, are recipients of the PPP loan, which also was able to cover barely two months. And, you know -- but not only that, it's not only (unintelligible) regular operational costs. It's the utilities. It's the services that we employ, whether it's, you know, maintaining our website or all the other things that we have, you know, had as far as regular business operations.
MCGEEThose have not been supported in the last, you know, period of time that we've been shut down, and so it's cost us some significant -- a financial burden. We also are fortunate to have a good relationship with our landlord and have been able to renegotiate rent to a reduced amount. But we, of course, are still indebted to pay that full amount as we come back. And we have also suffered in a reduced -- a significantly reduced amount of membership coming through and training and all the services that we normally do. So our impact has definitely been significant.
NNAMDIHere now is Lisa in Reston, Virginia. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAHi. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. So my biggest concern is the discrepancy that I'm seeing, which means the precautions that businesses are saying that they're going to take and the actual follow through of the precautions. So I'm finding that that might be making -- having customers lose trust in them when they say that everyone needs to wear a mask to enter and then customers think that they're safe and they go in and many people are not wearing masks.
LISAOr if there's going to be a touch less shopping experience like I had a couple weeks ago, or last week. And there were kids jumping up and down on the bed and people were touching -- this was at a retail store -- and people were touching items all the time. So I feel like if -- I know that businesses don't want confrontation, but I think that it loses the trust of people when they're saying that there are precautions set in place and they're not doing any follow through.
NNAMDIAna Cajina, how do you avoid confrontations with people who simply refuse to wear masks?
CAJINAI do ask them -- it's been just one case actually since we opened. And I asked him politely that we are following the recommendations the federal government is giving, and the local. And they needed to wear the mask. And that person said, I leave, so he left.
NNAMDIRather than wear a mask. Here is Ben on Capitol Hill. Ben, your turn.
BENHi. Thanks very much. I'm a giant fan of your show. I wanted to mention that my family were trying to order takeout and get takeout as much as possible. The one thing that's been really nice in our neighborhood is a couple of restaurants, for example Tortilla Coast. You can pick up your food and also buy PPE, things like paper towels and hand sanitizer and, I believe, masks as well, which is kind of a nice added bonus, and a reason that we would sometimes go to those restaurants because we had to pick up something for ourselves.
NNAMDIOh, great for you. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. We heard from Debbie in Greenbelt who emails, although stores and restaurants are open, the virus is still here. And with people not wearing masks, it makes it unsafe. Plus people are touching items and food and inevitably some things are not being sterilized and cleaned. We are already seeing the result of premature openings. Of course, the opposite of premature openings is not opening at all. Ana Cajina, Frugalista will be 20 years old next year, so the store has weathered the 2008 financial crisis and a few federal furloughs. How does this pandemic compare to the other hard times?
CAJINAThis has been catastrophic compared to the other ones. The other ones, in 2008 we actually did not -- we didn't see as much as this one. This one our, you know, revenue went to zero completely...
NNAMDISo this was the roughest...
CAJINA...so it's more impacted. Yes.
NNAMDIBrian, I know a lot of people have transitioned to home workouts during the coronavirus. Some have invested in things like Peloton bikes or at-home equipment. Are you worried that you'll lose some members, who have moved to at-home fitness programs?
MCGEEWell, we were likely to lose members during this particular period regardless. However, for the members that we are able to accommodate, we, as well as many others in this industry, have already shifted to accommodating members that are looking to train online, looking to train virtually. In many cases there may be people that are investing in, you know, things like Peloton and other pieces of equipment or, you know, apps and such that help them with their workouts.
MCGEEBut in many cases, gyms like ours, if they have, you know, members that are as dedicated to their specific gyms as ours, they are more than willing to follow us on those online platforms that we create to provide them with online workouts until they feel comfortable going inside.
NNAMDIPaul Ruppert, you opened a diner, a bookstore and a community-minded pub a few years ago, all on Upshur Street, jumpstarting that stretch. Can you talk a little bit about what you wanted to do and what independent businesses bring to a neighborhood?
RUPPERTI think independent small businesses are really the life blood of the city. And we can see with the other panelists here that they put their time, their money into creating their vision and sharing that vision with their customers. And I think that's what makes D.C. different from any other city is our small businesses. We're not -- the small businesses are not cookie cutters. And that certainly has been my attempt over the years, as I've been involved in various businesses, was to create something that was distinctive, different and welcoming.
NNAMDINot all of the local businesses will survive the shutdown in the financial difficulties that they're facing. What do you think the D.C. region will look like in a year. And are you concerned we'll lose some of that local flavor that small businesses have brought and worked so hard to bring here?
RUPPERTYeah, I think in a year's time we'll have more vacancies, more retail vacancies. And this is part of an ongoing trend, as we've seen the shopping experience move online and the pandemic has accelerated that. So what we'll see, I think, throughout the city and throughout the nation is increased retail vacancies.
RUPPERTAnd what it's going to require is a concerted effort that's a cooperative effort between private interests and public officials to come up with new solutions, innovative solutions to fill those spaces and support the small businesses so that they can maintain that individuality and that commitment to community. It's not going to be easy. This is -- as other people have stated, this is the most difficult time that we've seen, I think, probably since the Great Depression. And it's uncharted as to what happens next.
NNAMDIWell, you've been involved in real estate and property management. Give us a little bit of the landlord perspective here, Paul. Is it usually in the best interest of commercial landlords to try to keep their current tenants?
RUPPERTYes. So ideally those tenants are staying in the space, because the challenge -- when they might move out the challenge is finding a new tenant, right. And that takes months and costs money. So ideally if a landlord is positioned in a way that they can work with the existing tenant and either reduce the rent or extend the payment terms or something that will allow that tenant to stay in business, that's beneficial to everyone.
RUPPERTNow, of course, the other side of the coin is that many landlords have a mortgage, have a note on their building. And they have to pay that mortgage payment once a month, and they use the rental payments to do that. So if those landlords are able to work with their banks or the note holder to get some forbearance on those mortgage payments, then ideally they're extending that same forbearance to their tenants.
RUPPERTThe only way we get out of this is by working together. That's really what's, I think, the biggest message about all this. And I think that also ties to wearing masks. You know, we need to be encouraging of each other to maintain, you know, this responsible attitude which is wearing our masks, being socially distanced, washing our hands, you now, those various things.
NNAMDIBrian McGee, some public health experts have warned that we could see another surge in COVID-19 cases which could send localities into another shutdown. What would that mean for Fit360DC?
MCGEEWell, it's hard to say, but it's hard to believe that we would come out on the other end of it in the entity which we exist in right now. Businesses were not meant to survive this. Businesses were not meant to survive three months of their oxygen, the main source of their revenue cut off. And then maybe barely within about six to eight months after that have it cut off again. And so if we're in a situation in that period of time, that's going to be (unintelligible) that I am not altogether sure that...
NNAMDI...you can survive.
NNAMDISame question to you, Lesley Bryant. Could Lady Clipper survive another closure?
BRYANTWell, I would have to say I can't predict the future, but I will say if we have to shut down again, we're going to go right back into virtual cut mode and we're going to fight to the end, you know, until there's no other choice.
NNAMDIAnd, Ana, I only have about 20 seconds. What would another closure mean for the future of Frugalista?
CAJINAIt will be, like I said before, catastrophic. It will be being out of business.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Lesley Bryant, Brian McGee, Ana Cajina and Paul Ruppert, thank you all for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up tomorrow, we talk to the stars of "Crip Camp," the Netflix documentary released by Barack and Michelle Obama's production company, explores the evolution of the disability rights movement. We'll look at where that movement stands in the Washington region today and how far there is to go before people with disabilities are included everywhere. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.