The sight of world-famous streets virtually abandoned, shops boarded up and storefronts sitting empty in Beverly Hills seemed unimaginable only a short time ago. But now, it is the new reality the City faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses across the City are completely shut down or functioning at reduced capacity. But the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce is operating at full speed, albeit with staff working remotely. The Chamber’s President and CEO Todd Johnson is wasting no time in seeking relief for the business community.
On March 21, Johnson sent a letter to Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch, as well as to the members of the City Council. The letter requested a broad-ranging list of forbearances for local businesses, in light of present circumstances.
Johnson wrote:”We have numerous reports of layoffs and businesses that are down to zero revenue.”
As this continues, business owners and employees will find themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances and we have received increasing inquiries about what can be done to help. It is imperative that we support our businesses, which it is estimated provide upwards of 70 percent of General Fund revenue.”
Johnson went on to request the temporary suspension, elimination or refund of a number of fees impacting local businesses. Those fees include licenses and building permits; the City’s portion of sales and property taxes; water and trash fees and more.
Additionally, Johnson asked City officials to consider implementing a City financed loan or grant program for small businesses, similar to the one announced by the city of Los Angeles. Other suggestions included the creation of a business toolkit package, and the relaxation of rules regarding signage and temporary pop-ups.
The broad list of recommendations to the City was meant to get the conversation started, Johnson told the Courier. He has received positive feedback thus far from the Mayor and individual members of the City Council to whom he has reached out.
“I’ve seen an openness to discussing these proposals. I believe that they are going to do what they can do to help our businesses. This has been a real kick in the gut. Everyone’s trying to catch their breath,” said Johnson.
Johnson has heard that some hotels are keeping workers on staff. Many other businesses are maintaining employee health benefits, even though they may no longer be paying salaries.
“The reality is that none of us will be going back for several weeks. Certain essential businesses are open, such as grocery stores, the Rite Aid and gas stations. Restaurants are trying to stay open for takeout and delivery. We have a restaurant list that we are constantly updating,” Johnson said.
On March 25, the Chamber sponsored a webinar that discussed resources and assistance available to businesses affected by COVID-19. It covered Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other programs from the Small Business Administration, as well as federal, state and local resources.
Chamber staff (they remain on payroll) have been reaching out to the organization’s 750 members to see how they are faring. At this point, the future business landscape of the City is definitely still in flux.
“It depends on how long this situation lasts. I think there is a strong possibility that some businesses won’t reopen. The large ones with corporate monies probably will. But, the mom and pop shops, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Still, he feels there is room for optimism.
“Coronavirus is stretching everyone. But I truly believe we will come out of this better than before. We have to keep the faith and not get caught up with the craziness of it. If everyone were to simply practice the Golden Rule by taking care of themselves and each other, everything else should eventually be okay,” he added.