By Alfredo Santana
BELL GARDENS — A mix of state-mandated COVID-19 closures for public and private schools and a positive COVID case in April besieged Aranjuez Music Center teacher and co-owner Adolfo Perez throughout 2020.
Perez lost 35 to 40 children and adult music students and all the gross income generated from teaching guitar, piano, drums, saxophone and other instruments at the school located at 6445 Florence Ave., as the pandemic decimated businesses and jobs.
Though Aranjuez Music Center opened for business three years ago, Perez and his founding partner Jose Luis Naranjo switched its status to nonprofit to cope with the economic hit. They reported losses in 2020 with zero revenue.
Now, Perez is in the midst of refurbishing the school interiors for what he expects to be a better year as indoor classes are back, and students make a comeback with health and safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing ordered by the county’s Department of Public Health.
But Perez, already fully vaccinated, remains in financial trouble. He owes seven months of back rent to the landlord at the tune of $10,500 while students begin to trickle back in for keyboard and guitar lessons.
When he learned about the California program that would grant him $5,000 to cover a portion of lost revenue and help to pay expenses inflicted by the pandemic, Perez saw it as a chance to shoot for income he badly needs.
“COVID-19 affected me in many ways,” the 58-year old educator said. “In addition to shutting down for months, my sight suffered, and now I see like ghost images that move when I turn around. It’s part of a long-haul COVID sequel and due to my age.”
In what could be the last round of public cash assistance to small business, California will offer through Sept. 30 awards of $5,000, $15,000 and $25,000 to schools, shops and manufacturers registered with cities or incorporated with the secretary of state that reopened, or plan to do so.
The state started taking online applications for round nine of the California small business COVID-19 relief grant program Sept. 9. The program offers cash awards to for-profit business and charities that demonstrate financial losses in the second and third quarters of 2020 compared to the same periods on 2019 in income tax reports.
The awards come from the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The $4 billion plan allocated by Newsom to bolster small businesses would cover declines from April through September 2020, including slumping sales, loss of operations and shutdowns that in many cases lasted for several months.
The grants are available to sole proprietors, partnerships, independent contractors and corporations that had annual gross incomes of at least $1,000 and a maximum of $2.5 million.
“Our small businesses have faced unprecedented challenges over the past year, and we’re stepping up to meet the moment, making historic investments to provide businesses with the support they need and jumpstarting California’s economic recovery,” Newsom said in a statement.
Potential beneficiaries are identified in the categories by the North American Industry Classification System such as educational services, arts, recreation and entertainment, accommodations and food services, apparel manufacturing and clothing stores, sporting goods, musical instruments and book stores.
Also included are child care centers, transit and ground transportation for passengers, motion picture and sound recording industries, personal and laundry services and newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers and businesses located in disadvantaged zones.
Businesses and nonprofits that reported cash flows of up to $100,000 would be eligible for $5,000 grants, those that grossed no more than $1 million could receive $15,000, and entities with an income of $2.5 million can be awarded $25,000.
Before June 15, the date the state lifted most health restrictions for small businesses, 198,000 grants had been awarded and $475 million were disbursed.
To qualify, all applicants had to be operating since or before June 1, 2019 and document the COVID impact along with the health and safety restrictions that prompted business closures within the marked timeframe.
In addition, applications must be accompanied by a government-issued photo identification, such as a California driver’s license, a passport or a permanent resident card. Companies with two or more stores, factories, locations or franchises can apply for only one eligible small business with the highest revenue.
Perez said he has an amicable relationship with his landlord, who agreed to let him stay and pay the rent as the school gears up for fall activities.
However, the school generated gross income of less than $100,000 in 2019, which limits the amount Perez can receive to $5,000.
The musician and educator noticed that his students refused to pivot to virtual music classes and preferred to hold off until infections receded and vaccines were authorized to return to classroom lessons.
“It did not work out as well,” Perez said. “We pitched online classes to many, but they said there was nothing like being in person learning music. I’d say about 80% of students tend to be lazy while learning music online. They also said there was no point because online tutorials would do the same job.”
Another business hit hard by the pandemic at the outset was 5 Points Men’s Clothing in Lincoln Heights.
The retail shop with a specialty on new and vintage jeans, T-shirts and camouflaged uniforms for industrial and safety work carrying brands such as Levi’s, Dickies and Wrangler, had to comply with non-essential business orders to shutdown following the emergency declaration by Newsom in March 2020.
The apparel shop remained closed most of 2020, and started to reopen before Christmas just to close again as the winter surge of COVID transmissions pummeled the region.
Floor sales cashier Maria Sanchez was laid off after the initial closure mandate and only recently returned to work.
Sanchez said the outlet suffered a devastating economic blow, with sales still down compared to pre-COVID levels. On a recent Friday, groups of four to five customers wandered into the store, rummaging through aisles stocked with pants, but only one made a purchase of $20 to $30.
If awarded, the COVID-19 relief grant program would shore up a chunk of lost income, she said.
“The closures slowed down everything,” Sanchez said. “I lost my job, and now that we have reopened, sales are still below pre-pandemic levels. People are afraid of the Delta variant.”
At Aranjuez Music Center, two construction workers sawed drywall off a wall to widen a rehearsal room while Perez supervised the upgrades. The business owner will incur the refurbishing costs, but said he tries to control expenses as calls are placed to children’s parents and adults to enroll again.
“This is a labor of love job,” he said. “We never made lots of money teaching music here, but we like what we do for our [migrant] friends’ children who often speak only English.”
Enrollment at Aranjuez Music Center costs $50, plus $40 for one-hour individualized lessons.
Applications in English and forms in various languages for the California small business COVID-19 relief grant program are available at www.careliefgrant.com/.