A look at the local businesses of Des Plaines

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed us all in the face of adversity, and it has impacted nearly every aspect of society. One particular sphere of society burdened with an economic shock since the state-mandated shutdowns in early March 2020 has been the businesses of local communities. Such economic disruption placed many family-owned, small businesses on the brink of closure. Harvard Business School estimates that over 73,000 small businesses have permanently closed due to declining profits.

By: Natalya Badish

With more than 150 small businesses located in Des Plaines, the pandemic has taken a toll locally. Some businesses have been hit harder than others, but some have found a way to survive and thrive despite the pandemic.

The De La Rosa family runs a martial arts academy called MBD Martial Arts Academy, located at 1508 Miner St. As they are dependent on customers to teach, the pandemic has created an unusual circumstance. “It's been pretty stressful for all of us,” senior Danielle De La Rosa said. “We had to quickly figure out how to adapt to a virtual environment in a way that we weren't used to. My dad also works another job, and his hours got cut there, so we all had to be tight on our budgeting. Personally, I've been trying to stay as optimistic as possible. My mom and my brother would stay late nights at the school figuring out and testing all of our new technology to make sure everything ran smoothly for our students, so they were probably the most tired and the most stressed.”

While many family-owned businesses have been gripped by stress and anxiety about the future state of their business, the De La Rosa family has a different experience when it comes to emotions regarding the pandemic.

“My dad is pretty stoic and calm, so he continued to be just that, and did what we needed him to do. It's been a roller coaster,” De La Rosa said.“When the lockdown first hit, and everyone was under the impression that it would only last a few weeks, we weren't too freaked out. We did our virtual classes and everything seemed okay.”

We all have had to adjust to engaging in our normal activities, like school or even social gatherings, virtually, so it is no surprise that small businesses have also taken advantage of this virtual option. A recent study found that 35% of small businesses have begun offering virtual options during the pandemic.

For some businesses this has been their only option to continue to stay open, but for others, it has essentially added additional income streams or offered more alternatives for clients who may not feel comfortable visiting in-person. “When the lockdown kept getting extended, that's when more people started to end their memberships. We had been doing so well financially, so to start to have people quit because their finances were also impacted was disheartening all the way around. It was a losing situation for everyone everywhere. We are so lucky to have a wonderful family of students at our school so it gave us hope in times that we really needed it,” De La Rosa said.

One year later, with higher vaccination distribution rates and COVID-19 federal relief passed, the future is starting to look brighter for small businesses. “Fast forward to now, where restrictions for fitness and health related business have loosened a little, we are able to do a hybrid type schedule where our students have the option to be virtual or reserve an in-person spot. We are slowly getting back on track and feeling better about our future,” De La Rosa explained. With more businesses adapting to the hybrid model and potentially opening up to full capacity soon, the end of the pandemic is looking like a real possibility in the near future.

By: Sariff Alviso

Fortunately, other local Des Plaines businesses such as La Esperanza Bakery, located at 1180 Lee St., have managed to stay open.

La Esperanza has not been immune to profit loss and hardship in the past year, however. With the original stay-at-home order going into effect March 21, 2020, and nonessential businesses being forced to temporarily close, La Esperanza had to halt operations. “We closed for a while, but we realized that sales would be too low for too long. We checked with the city, my parents decided to reopen, and we never looked back,” Nonoal said.

Similar to most other Hispanic bakeries, La Esperanza allows customers to personally select the pan dulce -- Hispanic sweet bread and pastries -- using tongs. Because of this nature, particularly strict precautionary measures were taken by the owners: “Like most other businesses we have a mask mandate in place. We don’t allow many customers in at once, hand sanitizer is available, and everyone has to use disposable gloves. I feel safe working, but sometimes customers can be difficult and don’t want to wear a mask or wear them incorrectly. I’ve had to ask them to leave before,” Nonoal said. The rules seem to be working: in the year since COVID exploded and the stay-at-home order went into place, no employees have contracted coronavirus.

By: Stephanie Kambourov

Pho Dung Gia restaurant, located at 1436 Miner St., is a culturally enriching, family-owned Vietnamese restaurant with over 70 authentic dishes. Like many other local businesses, the vast-reaching impacts of the pandemic have unfortunately affected Pho Dung Gia. Maine West junior Angela Tran, whose parents own the restaurant, detailed the strain that the pandemic had placed on her parents’ restaurant.

Beginning mid-March of 2020, the pandemic had struck the economic sphere and likewise, the sentiments of consumers. As health concerns rose and restrictions for consumers prevented many from spending time in public spaces, dining out, and doing many leisure activities, businesses experienced an incredible decline in customers. Pho Dung Gia restaurant faced no other option than to adapt. Tran stated that due to such a reduction in customers, “there were less employees, and my parents had to take on multiple responsibilities and tasks in order to manage the restaurant.”

Pho Dung Gia adopted new state-mandated policies, such as maintaining 6 feet of distance and requiring masks upon arrival. Because of that, Tran’s parents “were left with no other option than to reduce the available seating to customers.” Ultimately, they decided to temporarily halt indoor dining entirely. Understanding the importance of protecting the health of their customers and following the state-mandated business policies, Tran highlighted that “they had to switch to fully carry out, which they had never done before.”

The pandemic not only challenged the Tran family with managing the safety of their customers, but also managing the costs of successfully running the restaurant. For the Pho Dung Gia, fewer customers meant closer money management. However, such adversities allowed for one unexpected outcome: an opportunity for growth. According to Tran, management of the restaurant during the pandemic bolstered resilience, as she and her parents grew adept at managing multiple tasks.

Although the pandemic has been harsh on most businesses, many large corporations have been the exception. Therefore, it is more important now more than ever to support family-owned, small, Des Plaines businesses. By supporting local businesses, you’re also supporting the city of Des Plaines and Maine West through sales taxes. "Spending money towards small businesses simply means a lot more to them than spending money at big companies," Tran said.

But there is also a moral aspect of supporting local businesses. By investing time and money into a small business, you are also assisting your neighbors during a difficult time. “I think it’s good to support people around you who come from humble origins, who are taking a risk and are trying to build something meaningful for themselves,” Nonoal said.