Small businesses receive free masks, hand sanitizer thanks to state program
It’s difficult enough for a small business to cope with the toll the pandemic has taken on its bottom line.
In addition to dwindling sales, there's the cost to comply with the state’s mask mandate and other health directives.
So Darlene Mathis, whose family owns the McCloud Mercantile Hotel in Siskiyou County, is breathing easier these days after she received a supply of surgical masks and hand sanitizer at no cost.
It’s part of Shop, Safe, Shop Local, a program to help small businesses adapt to the new marketplace created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cost of sanitizer and masks, all that really does add up,” Mathis said.
While the virus has caused major disruptions to businesses large and small, in the town of McCloud, this summer is still bringing tourists from across the state, many escaping their urban communities where the virus is more prevalent.
“For us, it’s really important that we try to keep our employees safe as we can because we are exposed to a lot of people,” Mathis said.
In Siskiyou County, the Siskiyou Small Business Development Center and Jefferson Economic Development Institute are partnering to distribute approximately 161,000 surgical masks and 1,311 gallons of hand sanitizer to several hundred businesses. Merchants with 25 or fewer employees can request the items online.
"We are all scurrying because a lot of people are excited about this," said Nancy Swift, executive director of Jefferson Economic Development Institute. Siskiyou County has enough masks and sanitizer to supply 200 businesses.
Superior California Economic Development (SCED) in Redding coordinated efforts in Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity and Modoc counties to get the masks and hand sanitizers to small businesses. It was SCED who contacted Siskiyou County Economic Development, which contacted Swift's group.
Loree Byzick, special projects manager at SCED, said Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency agreed to store and then be a distribution point for businesses in greater Redding. Outlying areas like Anderson, Burney and Shingletown coordinated distribution for businesses in those communities.
Shasta County Health and Human Services took reservations and is distributing masks and hand sanitizer to businesses Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Byzick said.
"Once that settles and we figure out how much PPE (personal protective equipment) is left, it will be determined if Health and Human Services will distribute it on an on-call basis or whether we will do an actual distribution the second or third week in August," she said.
Meanwhile, 3CORE of Chico created an 18-county distribution network that brought in partners like Jefferson Economic Development Institute and Superior California Economic Development to distribute the masks and sanitizer. 3CORE ordered approximately 5 million masks and 44,000 gallons of hand sanitizer that is being delivered in cases of 16-ounce bottles.
“The goal of the whole thing is to help businesses stay open and stay open safely,” said Chelsea Irvine, community resource manager for 3CORE. “If they are able to find them (masks, sanitizer) they are either on back order or they get so expensive because they have to buy so much.
“Business have had to buy Plexiglass screens or new platforms for online ordering. It’s one cost on top of the other.”
The state’s Office of Emergency Services and Office of the Small Business Advocate contacted 3CORE seeking help to distribute the supplies to underserved businesses in the North State, Irvine said.
Last Friday, 600 to 700 businesses came to the Chico Municipal Airport to get free masks and hand sanitizer.
The focus is getting the supplies to businesses with primarily 25 or fewer employees.
“But some businesses are locally owned with 75 employees,” Irvine said. “It’s up to the local jurisdictions to decide because they know best.”
Mathis of the McCloud Mercantile Hotel said most of her customers agree to wear masks.
“The (free) masks were really important because we have people who come in who say they forgot their mask or just don’t have a mask,” she said. “We have signs up that tell people they need to wear a mask, but sometime when you’re traveling, they don’t have a mask.”
Like all non-essential businesses, McCloud Mercantile Hotel was forced to close when the pandemic hit in March, and it didn’t reopen until late May.
Mathis said business has been brisk.
“The beaches were close after Memorial Day weekend, so I think a lot of people ended up coming to the mountains,” Mathis said. “We have had a lot of business since we opened, but we were closed for two months. While Walmart and all the big box stores were open, they told Main Street America that you have to close. That I have a problem with.”
Mathis is doing her best to stay optimistic.
“If we get a vaccine, that would be awesome,” she said.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding.