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No Parade. No Rose Bowl. The Pandemic Takes A Bite Out Of Pasadena Business

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Colorado Boulevard was quiet on New Year's Day for the first time in decades. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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The streets of Pasadena are quieter than they've been in decades. Blame the long-planned cancellation of the Rose Parade and the relocation of the Rose Bowl football game to Texas.

"Just like everybody, we've had to pivot and adjust to the implications of the pandemic," said David Eads, the executive director and CEO for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, which coordinates the festivities.

The Tournament consulted public health experts during the summer before deciding to cancel the parade, which typically draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city. Then, the game itself was moved after California officials denied requests to let fans gather in the Pasadena stadium.

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The annual New Year's Day festivities are typically a boon for local businesses. The Tournament estimates the economic impact of the game and the parade at almost $200 million, with most of that money spent on accommodations and food.

We checked in with a few Pasadena businesses to see how they're faring. The TL;DR is that they understand why it has to be this way but that doesn't make it any easier to balance the books.

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Lêberry Bakery owner Jennifer Le and business partner Raynard Ivan Ledford III. (Courtesy Jennifer Le)

THE BAKERY

Last year, Lêberry Bakery was open for a full 24-hours leading up to the Rose Parade that passed right by its front doors on Colorado Boulevard.

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Owner Jennifer Le remembers people waiting up to two hours for one of their signature vegan or gluten-free donuts.

"That one day made a huge difference for our business last year," Le said.

In the first weeks of the pandemic, the bakery totally shut down but it has since reopened. Before the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases, Lêberry was just starting to see an increase in take-out orders for pies and cakes.

Le managed to secure a federal relief loan but also had to dig into her savings and empty her retirement account to stay afloat.

"Our goal is to survive," Le said. "It's not to make money. It's to survive at this point, to ensure that our employees have a job."

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Fiesta Parade Floats did have one New Year's assignment, creating a floral sculpture (float without wheels) for nonprofit Donate Life. It'll be displayed outside the Wrigley Mansion in Pasadena through Sunday, Jan. 3. (Mariana Dale/ LAist)

THE FLOAT BUILDERS

Fiesta Parade Float's business is tied almost completely to the Rose Parade supplemented by a few smaller celebrations throughout the year.

Different companies and organizations commission Fiesta to create 10 to 12 floats for each year's parade. Past hits include 2017's surfing dogs float and another in 2016 where riders could zipline over a leafy botanical paradise.

Owner Tim Estes decorated his first float when he was 8-years-old and has worked on the parade for the last 56 years.

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"My last paycheck was March 21," Estes said. "I'm not crying the blues per se, I'm just saying it's the reality."

He estimates the company has lost 99% of its income this year, which means he hasn't been able to pay the dozens of welders, mechanics and designers usually employed full-time or the hundreds of part-time decorators who place the final rosebuds on the floats.

"I've always taken pride that I try and take care of things on my own but it's getting pretty thin here," Estes said when asked if he'd applied for any loans or relief programs during the pandemic.

Now that there's a coronavirus vaccine, Estes has started to think about floats for 2022's Rose Parade, which will feature the theme "Dream. Believe. Achieve," originally planned for 2021.

Estes said as much as he enjoys designing and creating, the parade is really about the people who watch it.

"Maybe they're having, you know, not the greatest day, but they see a float and we get an extra smile on them and make them feel happy and forget their woes," Estes said.

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A classic car adorned in roses drives down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day 2021. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

THE HOTEL

At the Hilton Pasadena, there's no bellman to greet you at the doors and likely just one person, masked, at the front desk. The restaurant is empty and the bar is closed.

"It's a long, lonely walk to your office," said general manager Joe Titizian.

Throughout L.A. County, the hospitality industry has posted the largest job decline this year. By the end of March 2020, Titizian estimates he had to lay off close to 140 employees.

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Robert Mckendrick and his son Kurtis Mckendrick always come watch the parade from the sidelines but when it was cancelled this year they decided to come out and have their own parade. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Right now, less than 25% of the hotel's 296 rooms are filled, he said. The most consistent customers are essential workers and traveling nurses.

In years past, reservations around the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game sell out months in advance. The hotel hosts high school marching bands and their entourages as well as football fans and parade-watchers.

"It's on the bucket list for many," Titizian. "They make it a vacation, they come in here, they're here for a week. So that's why it's even more devastating."

Titizian said he always works the hotel's busiest days. He took this New Year's Day off for the first time in years.

"I don't even know what to do," he said. "I'll probably just wake up and watch the Rose Bowl being played in Texas."