Monday, April 19, 2021
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Pandemic Besieged Small Businesses Struggle to Reopen Across All Major Metros in California, But Vaccine Rollout Brightens Outlook

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Small Business Revenues Scorched, Leisure and Hospitality Businesses Hit Hardest; Job Recovery Underway In Urban Centers

The number of ‘open’ small businesses in five of California’s largest metropolitan areas remains far below pre-pandemic levels – and has declined precipitously just since the surge in new COVID-19 cases hit the nation in late 2020, according to a new analysis released today by Beacon Economics.

As of early February, San Francisco has fared the worst with a 50.5% decline in the number of small businesses that are open and operating in the region compared to one year ago. Los Angeles has fared best with 34% fewer open small businesses, followed by San Diego (36.7%), the East Bay (37.2%), and the South Bay (40.3%). With the exception of Los Angeles, all metro regions performed worse than the state or nation as a whole where open small businesses have declined 35.4% and 34.2%, respectively.

In each region, steep drops in the number of open small businesses have occurred just since November when strict, health-mandated closures and restrictions were once again implemented following the largest surge in new COVID cases in the state to date. 

“These latest findings underscore just how badly small businesses, and their ability to operate, have been curtailed by the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions on activity,”  said Taner Osman, Research Manager at Beacon Economics. “However, with several effective vaccines rolling out in earnest, and with new virus cases falling across the state and nation, the outlook for small business is much brighter for the coming year.” 

Osman notes that these data do not suggest that businesses that are not open have closed permanently, but the longer they remain closed, the greater the likelihood of that occurring. “How this ultimately plays out for individual businesses will depend on whether they have the resources to sustain themselves until things open up widely and permanently again,” said Osman. “The good news is that a sustained reopening is drawing closer and while we may not completely return to trend this year, the economy is on the path to full recovery, bringing small business with it.” 

Revenues at small businesses have also been hammered, in many cases falling by close to or more than three-quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels. Key small business findings by region include:

  • San Francisco Metro (SF and San Mateo Counties): Like elsewhere, San Francisco’s Leisure and Hospitality small businesses have suffered the most from pandemic-related restrictions. Regionally, there has been a 66.7% drop in the number of open small businesses in this industry compared to pre-COVID levels. Moreover, revenues at these businesses have taken a staggering 83.4% tumble. No other industry in San Francisco has come close to this level of revenue loss.
  • Los Angeles Metro (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale MD): While the data is brighter than in San Francisco, the number of open Leisure and Hospitality small businesses in Los Angeles has plummeted roughly 50% compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is approximately the same as in California as a whole. The loss of revenue at small Leisure and Hospitality businesses in Los Angeles stands at 68%, not as severe as the losses in San Francisco but still highly indicative of the harsh circumstances facing this industry.
  • San Diego Metro (San Diego County): San Diego’s Leisure and Hospitality small businesses also stand out as the most severely affected by the pandemic. The number of open small businesses in this beleaguered industry has fallen 47.7% compared to pre-COVID levels. This is a better outcome than in the state or nation as a whole, reflecting the relative strength of the region’s economy at the outset of the crisis. Although acute, at 66.2%, there has also been less revenue loss among San Diego’s Leisure and Hospitality businesses than in any other metro.
  • South Bay (Santa Clara and San Benito Counties): Unlike every other metro, in the South Bay, small businesses in the Transportation sector have fared the worst with 47.7% fewer open compared to pre-pandemic levels. Leisure and Hospitality small businesses are not far behind, however, with 45.8% fewer open. Revenues among the latter have also been hit the hardest, by far. As of February 2021, Leisure and Hospitality small businesses in the South Bay have suffered a 72.7% drop in revenue. 
  • East Bay (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties): In the East Bay, Leisure and Hospitality small businesses have experienced the most severe impacts with a 59.4% drop in the number of open businesses compared to pre-pandemic levels. Only San Francisco has experienced a steeper decline. Accordingly, revenues have fallen 72% at East Bay small businesses in this industry. No other sector in the region comes close to this level of revenue loss.

The new analysis also finds that employment gains are occurring across all the state’s major metros, but each still has significantly fewer jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels – ranging from 7.3% fewer jobs in the South Bay to 10.4% fewer jobs in San Francisco. Unemployment has continued to fall across all metro areas of the state. 

View the full Regional Outlooks for the East Bay, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and the South Bay here:

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Inland Empire Business Journal
The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.