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How LA Businesses Are Deciding Whether To Stay Open Or Close Down

Many stores were empty in Los Angeles on March 16, 2020, the day after state and local officials required many establishments to shut down to help slow the spread of coronavirus. (Emily Guerin/KPCC)
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Stay open, or close down?

Bars, movie theaters and gyms are closing their doors to help slow the spread of coronavirus. But how are other small business owners making this decision?

I visited every store on a two-block stretch of Lincoln Boulevard near Rose Ave. in Venice. I avoided stores that have already been instructed to stay open (restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies) or shut down (gyms, bars, movie theaters).


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It seemed like a good cross-section of Los Angeles. Here, homeless people sleep in RVs in front of upscale stores that specialize in alkaline water, and a payday loan store shares a corner with Whole Foods.


I found that the businesses most determined to stay open were... busy. And why were they busy? Because they were selling essentials, or what people perceive to be essentials, like cigarettes and marijuana.

As a tobacco store employee told me:

“If you have a pretty ravishing nicotine addiction and you can’t go out, a lot of people are going to stock up."

Meanwhile, stores selling non-essentials, like picture frames, were empty. Stores where social distancing is impossible, like massage parlors or barber shops, were also without customers.
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Still, some said they'd stay open until the government shuts them down.

Barber Trevor Plough put it this way: “If we don’t cut, we don’t eat."

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