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See you soon? Small business owners struggle, but are hopeful for a brighter tomorrow in Nevada County

Sam Corey
Staff Writer
While other area stores have been floundering, business has been steady at area grocery stores so far during the COVID-19 pandemic in western Nevada County.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

Chris Kysar has a unique perspective.

Operating a grocery store and restaurant in a shared space, the president of California Organics is straddling two related businesses undergoing starkly different financial outcomes. As restaurants take hard economic hits during the pandemic, many grocery stores are seeing a boom in profits.

California Organics’ restaurant has had its revenue deteriorate to 10 to 15% of what it was before the pandemic, said Kysar. And while in normal times that would mean layoffs, Kysar has transitioned restaurant employees to his grocery store, where they can help a stronger business.

“The losses from the restaurant are being picked up from the increases on the grocery side,” he said.

While there is a bit of a concern about the supply chain — actually moving products from farms and distribution centers to the shelf — and specifically the supply of toilet paper and beans has diminished, Kysar said his store will remain fairly full for the next year before a significant stock shortage occurs.

“We probably have 80% of what we’d like to have,” he said, “but there’s enough on the shelves for everyone to get what they’re looking for.”

Like most small businesses in Nevada County, California Organics applied for the Paycheck Protection Program loans, but has yet to see any money from the program, and is skeptical that the second federal stimulus package aimed at helping small businesses will reach small stores like his own.

To improve business for the restaurant, California Organics is launching an app so customers can more easily place an order from a distance and even get delivery, said Kysar.

While other restaurant owners in the area say they are struggling, many are also optimistic for the future — a time when they can share food, spirits and camaraderie with their customers, and once again engage in their lives.


Nevada City Classic Cafe owner Kirk Valentine said that while he’s never seen anything quite like this pandemic before, he’s been pleased with residents’ responses and particularly that from Nevada City.

“We’ve had really good experiences with people coming in and helping us,” he said. “I’ve been all over the world and Nevada City is a very special place as far as I’m concerned. When we have our difficulties we get stronger because of who we are.”

Golden Era has been using the down time to renovate its bar as well its wooden floors.

“If there’s a silver lining, at least the building will look good at the end of the day,” said owner Steve Giardina.

The bar recently opened itself to allow the public to order mixed drinks and pick them up along its curbside. The goal, said Giardina, was to give his employees something to do, boost morale and engage the community.

“We found it connects us to the community,” he said. “People are happy to see a business open; they’re happy to see the doors open.”


Optimism has been met with much grit from other restaurant owners, seeking to ensure the community that they will still be here when the pandemic fades, and long thereafter.

Miner Moe’s Pizza is one of those businesses, according to co-owner Monique Bartosh.

“We’ve been around 29 years,” she said, “and we’ll see you 29 years later.”

While Miner Moe’s has taken a hit, and Bartosh has had to cut hours of her employees, she’s happy to at least remain partially open. If she finds disappointment in the situation, much of it has to do with how the federal government has distributed loans to small businesses thus far.

“They gave it to big corporations,” she said. “They did it wrong.”

What’s most difficult now for Bartosh is a sentiment shared by many small business owners: she can’t deeply engage her customers.

“Not going table to table to hug my customers, to greet them,” she said, “that’s been my hardest thing, not being able to see my customers and visit them.”

Three Forks Bakery co-owner Shana Maziarz agreed.

“The whole idea is to create community through food,” she said. “Now, it’s sort of a shell of what it’s supposed to be.”

Maziarz said she’s appreciative for Bank of the West, which helped Three Forks acquire the paycheck protection program loans for which it applied. But she fears the streets will still be empty even in the coming months after the virus’ spread has slowed.

“The longer this goes on the less likely some businesses will be able to come back,” she said.

The Pizza Joint’s co-owner Elizabeth Stueck said that while there has been a surge in take-out orders, the economic crunch has already dug into the shop’s revenue, particularly that which came from Nevada City’s late-night rush on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.


As opposed to restaurants, local grocery stores are able to maintain operations, serve customers and generate consistent revenue.

“We’re fine cause we’re open,” said SPD co-owner Ben Painter. “We’re fortunate enough to still be open and still keep our employees working.”

Painter said that while daily customer count is down, people are purchasing larger orders than before, likely to avoid frequent trips and being near others.

During the pandemic Painter said SPD has hired about five people at its Grass Valley store.

While there’s a shortage on some products — like Kleenex and paper towels — the co-owner said he’s not concerned about long stretches of supply shortages.

Grass Valley’s Grocery Outlet’s parking lot and store is consistently full these days, but a store manager said they were not allowed to speak on the record about the shop. An inquiry made to Grocery Outlet’s corporate structure by The Union was not returned by press time.

BriarPatch Food Co-op has been stable, according to the store’s communications specialist Laura Petersen. One hundred customer-owners were added in the last six weeks, she wrote in an email. The store hasn’t made any layoffs and the supply chain is almost without issues.

“While there have been a few out of stocks here and there, the vast majority of our orders have been coming in regularly,” she said. “Every week things seem to be stabilizing even more.”

Regardless of the type of business, but particularly for those struggling, many small store owners are left with the same choice, said Kysar of California Organics.

“There’s two options: fight or flight,” he said. “OK, here’s the situation. What do we do?”


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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