SLO County businesses eye bright future with return to normalcy

Posted at 8:07 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 13:45:14-05

The COVID-19 pandemic has emptied lifelong savings of business owners across the nation, and the same goes for some right here on the Central Coast. As vaccination efforts ramp up and a turn in the right direction could be around the corner, we look at the future of business in San Luis Obispo County.

“We really got to a point of make or break for our businesses,” said Jim Dantona, President and CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, on the state of business during the second stay-at-home order.

COVID tiers and shutdowns; two of the most-feared phrases for a business owner. In San Luis Obispo County, several have shut their doors permanently or temporarily, leaving many wondering what’s to come.

“We’re all suffering in this together,” said John Conner, who owns Petit Soleil, a bed and breakfast in downtown SLO, with his wife, Diane.

They first opened in February of 2003, and Conner says he's never seen anything like this before. Petit Soleil was able to reopen for the first time in 2021 on Friday, but both shutdowns in 2020 made for tough financial decisions.

“That came up many a time: How do you do this? You only save so much for a rainy day in a business, never to expect anything to this degree,” said Conner.

A return to normalcy would mirror Petit Soleil’s outlook.

“We’ll operate the same,” said Conner.

Sloco Health + Wellness, formerly Sloco Massage + Wellness Spa before the pandemic, felt the effects of the first shutdown.

“Having to lay off 15 or more employees, or just one, is not a great experience,” said Natasha Prybyla, founder of Sloco Health + Wellness.

The locally owned business pivoted to cater to customers’ needs.

“We saw it as an opportunity to integrate health and wellness into the spa industry with this shift. Now we’re just focusing on services that don’t require close contact like whole body cryotherapy and dry salt therapy,” said Prybyla.

“I would rather meet people face-to-face because that’s what I enjoy, but at the same time, we can do a bunch of meetings back-to-back-to-back and not have to leave home. The dogs are stoked, everyone’s happy,” said Ryan Heath, co-owner of Sloco Health + Wellness.

A handful of businesses have thrived with the shift to remote work and learning. Comevo, a San Luis Obispo-based company delivering orientation software for universities, is a prime example.

“For our customers, nothing has changed,” said Leslie Coe, President of Comevo.

With the influx of business, Comevo gave 15, $5,000 grants to local businesses. Coe says when the economy starts to trend upward, their business model will remain the same.

“We’re just staying remote. Because everything changes so much, we’re not making any major decisions right now. The nice part is that we’re flexible,” said Coe.

While Dantona says a third shutdown could be the one to break the spirit of business on the Central Coast, a move to the purple COVID-19 tier and news of vaccination advancement locally brings new hope.

“Hold on just a little longer. Let’s see if we can really turn the corner. We are actually getting to the idea that we can slow the spread,” said Dantona. “If that’s the case, there’s going to be a lot of people who want to get out and shop and eat and vacation, and I think we’ll see a lot of economic upside when that happens.”

If your business is struggling, funding is still available. Monday is the final day to apply for the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program. Click here for more information.