So many aspects of everyday life have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spectrum of these changes range from small inconveniences for some to drastic life changes for others. This rings true not only for citizens of Salt Lake City’s west side, but also for its small business owners. For many businesses, operations either slowed down or were temporarily stalled; for some, the changes brought the final nail in the metaphorical coffin for their entrepreneurial dreams.
The west side hosts a rich diversity of businesses, and each of them have had unique challenges due to the pandemic. In the tech sector, Westpointe resident and Salt Lake City School Board Member Joél-Léhi Organista’s Machitia App found itself losing out on thousands of dollars of promised funds. Machitia App is a project developing technology to improve educators' abilities to collaborate and create plans for culturally responsive teaching environments – a need the pandemic’s impact has arguably made even more urgent.
In the housing industry, Utah Top Remodelers owner and project manager, Jay Reza, saw the pandemic bring instant ramifications for his business. Although he had home jobs lined up before the pandemic, he recounted how two of his bigger clients – slated to provide large profits – hesitated to begin. One of them is still indefinitely paused, the owners understandably awaiting pandemic restrictions to be lifted.
When the pandemic first hit, Reza recalled being “greatly alarmed” by the virus. His main crew of six teammates had to regrettably be lowered to two for both their safety, as well as being unable to continue offering everyone their promised 40 hours a week. A further blow came when one of his team members fell ill, causing all of their jobs to stall while they were in quarantine.
“I [myself] didn’t get sick until about nine months into the pandemic,” he recounted. “Besides my quarantine time, I’ve been working through the entire pandemic.”
Many small companies saw a glimmer of light during this time due to resources former President Trump’s administration offered, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and other SBA-sponsored programs; however, Reza’s experience with this, like many others’, did not garner instant relief.
“Support from the government… it was difficult to get and took a long minute to get approved,” said Reza. “A deposit I initially was told I’d been denied I actually randomly got three months late. My business is very, very expensive to run but I caught up on some bills thanks to [that] deposit. I’m thankful we [eventually] got that deposit because otherwise it would have been very, very, very tough.”
As an entrepreneur, it is vital to have a source and focus to keep going during hard times. Reza stated his drive to keep going came from his family and his clients. The joy from providing for his family, as well as helping others realize the vision of their house’s potential, were great motivators for him. He is also grateful for the support of many organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club, but he believes that if his company were situated somewhere on Salt Lake’s east side, then he would have opportunities for more resources.
To his fellow entrepreneurs during these tough times, Reza advises pushing forward and continually improving their craft, whatever it may be. He credits his own proactive attitude for being able to overcome some of the setbacks faced by many companies.
In the service industry, Maria Santiago has owned and operated Mexican food trucks alongside her brother and sister for more than fifteen years in Rose Park and West Valley City, but business had never taken a hit like it has during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first week of the pandemic when everything shut down, sales dropped by more than 30 percent," Santiago told The West View in Spanish. “Unfortunately, we had to let one person go because we could not afford to cover their salary.”
El Jaripeo, Santiago’s Rose Park food truck, has been at the 600 North Smith’s parking lot for two years, where it serves more than 200 customers a day and has become best known for tripe tacos. It took Santiago months to recover from the March shutdown last year. When former Governor Herbert asked Utahns to stay home in the fall, before Thanksgiving, sales once again suffered, dropping by more than 50 percent.
“We tried to research to get some type of help from the government, but it’s been impossible,” said Santiago. “Earlier on during the pandemic, we feared what would happen and if we would have to shut down our businesses.”
The pandemic did force her brother to close down the family’s brick-and-mortar restaurant, El Jaripeo Grill, which serves dishes from their native Oaxaca, Mexico. The restaurant, now closed to the public, is where Santiago, her siblings, and some 17 employees prepare food for all five of the family’s west-side food trucks.
All things considered, Santiago is grateful to still be in business, for her family and her employees’ sake. Despite it all, Santiago says she’s living the American dream in the Beehive State. “Thank God we arrived in the state of Utah, it has been a blessing. Thank God we’ve been able to establish ourselves here.”