(Editor’s Note: Starting Thursday, March 19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered all malls, movie theaters, gyms, gambling and horse racing establishments under state control closed.
All restaurants are limited to take out or deliver services only.
All hotels, motels and other lodging will be limited to 50 percent capacity.
The order is set to continue through April 10.)

Small, locally-owned businesses are being affected by the COVID-19 threat.

As things are changing at a rapid rate, the day-to-day workflow is in flux all around Valencia County. Local events are being canceled or postponed, some municipal facilities are closed to the public and school children and teachers are “off” for the next three weeks.

Businesses like Teri’s Sweet Garden in Los Lunas has modified how they do business in an attempt to keep its doors open.

Teri Leahigh, owner of Teri’s Sweet Garden, said they are very concerned because they’re already seeing less customers than usual, and with the schools being on break, the business loses some of its revenue through the fundraising that students do during the school year.

“If you’re concerned and don’t want to come in the shop, we will come out to your car. We want to try to make it as easy and safe for our customers as possible,” Leahigh said.

The locally-owned business has a hand-washing station and cleans touched surfaces after a customer leaves.

“We’re still here. We can meet the needs if people want it,” Leahigh said. “If you need a chocolate fix or pickles, we won’t run out of product.”

Mitchell Starlight Cinema in Los Lunas is limiting its ticket sales. Manager Gary Jacobson said they are putting a cap on ticket sales and limiting each auditorium to hold 100 people or less.

“I’ve got theaters that can seat way more than 100 but we would have to not be able to sell anymore than that,” Jacobson said. “With 100 people in a 200-person theater, people tend to spread out in auditoriums.”

Because major movie studios are pushing back the release of the films set to premiere this month and next, Jacobson said that will also impact their ticket sales.

“That’s our bigger concern — that one’s going to affect us a lot. When there’s no new movies for the next few weeks, we’re trying to figure out what to do right now to fill in the gap,” Jacobson said.

Beginning this Friday, the theater will no longer be having its late show times that usually begin between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Jacobson said they’re doing what they can to protect the patrons and employees, paying extra attention to counters and auditorium doors.

“We do that stuff anyway but we’re doing it more so than normal to address people’s concerns.”

Jacobson said they want to stay open in light of the fact that many other establishments in the community are closing, but will adhere to whatever the governor and state mandates.

Businesses at all levels are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Valencia Health and Wellness in Belen just opened in January and has been struggling to attract new patients as they wait to be approved by various insurance companies. While they are now able to provide care for more patients, it’s been a bit difficult as people are cautious about going to doctor’s offices.

Jennifer Trujillo, co-owner and nurse practitioner, said they have experienced a number of patients canceling their appointments.

Jennifer Trujillo and Cassandra Otero, both physician assistants, opened Valencia Health and Wellness in Belen on Jan. 21.
Submitted photo

“They’re afraid to come in,” Trujillo said. “We don’t have a big walk-in population, but people who have had appointments are afraid.”

Trujillo said she understands the community’s fears, but is trying to reassure patients that if they’re going in for a regular visit, to call them from their cars and they’ll let them know if there is anyone sick in the office.

“Well patients need to keep their appointment,” Trujillo said. “We can help you. We’re telling most people if they’re under 65 and have no other health conditions, they’re going to be fine more than likely. And if they’re sick, they need to stop going to work.”

While Valencia Health and Wellness continues to be diligent in its cleaning practices, they are making sure all surfaces and equipment are wiped down several times a day.

The service industry has also been hit hard as people are skeptical of going to a business where all hands are on deck.

Ronnie Torres, owner and stylist at Hair Innovations, said several people have been canceling appointments since last Thursday.

“It’s tough because we don’t get paid by the hour, we get paid by the job,” Torres said. “We have our bills to pay like everyone else, but it’s going to be real tough here.”

Torres said he and the other stylists are making sure the shop is safe for themselves as well as clients by spraying everything down every couple of hours and constantly washing their hands.

“As always, we don’t want people coming here if they’re sick,” Torres said. “Our regulars are coming in, but there is a real slowing down. The first three appointments (on Friday) canceled. We have a slow down in walk-ins as well; it’s dropped by 50 to 60 percent.”

He too understands the fear some might have, but says if you’re healthy, don’t stop living.

“If someone needs a haircut come on in,” he said.

Sopa’s Restaurant in Bosque Farms is following the National Restaurant Association resources made available and is complying with the state restrictions but even still one of the owners, Maya Sanchez, said business has been cut down by about half.

“We’re feeling the effects for sure financially already but we’re hoping that once they have a handle on it and once we get more information that we can all work together and take care of what we need to,” Sanchez said.

She said Sopa’s started preparing as soon as they found out it was a pandemic by creating a two-step process to clean tables and investing in cleaning supplies.

“We’ve had a few different meetings with [staff] on how to approach cleaning tables, how to sanitize tables and how to keep the germs down to a minimum,” Sanchez said.

While many in the service industry are being forced to either decrease the number of patrons that come into their establishments, local funeral homes might have a difficult time doing so.

Dicky Romero, owner of Romero Funeral Home in Belen, said turning people away from paying their last respects might be difficult.

“I had a huge service in Magdelena on Saturday — the family had about 70 along, and there were easily 150 people at the service,” Romero said. “It was held at San Miguel Mission (which was allowed at the last minute), but we couldn’t use the parish hall. The family had to scramble to have the reception at a house.”

Romero has told his crew “not to get caught up in the national frenzy” but continue to do what they’ve always done — clean, clean and clean some more.

“It’s going to be hard to put a restriction on attendance and monitor,” Romero said of future funerals. “It would be extremely difficult.”

In an effort to keep attendance to a minimum, Romero Funeral Home will livestream services via Facebook Live.

“We encourage people to still come in and make arrangements,” Romero said. “There are strict time rules we have to follow when working with the deceased.

“This is uncharted territory for all of us,” he added. “We’re hoping for the best.”

A few locally-owned businesses aren’t taking any chances and are temporarily closing their doors.

Fat Sat’s Bar and Grill in Belen posted on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon announcing its closure.

News-Bulletin file photo

“To all of our valued customers and employees. After 13 years in business Fat Sat’s has been forced to make the toughest business decision we have ever encountered,” the post said. “With the overall health risk to the community as well as continued restrictions put in place by health officials, local and federal governments, we have determined that it is in the best interest for the community to temporarily close Fat Sat’s.

“This decision did not come easy and we will make every effort to assist all our employees during this difficult time,” the post continued. “We have decided to stay open until Friday evening and will be running all beer at a 49 percent discount from now until then.”

The post also said they appreciate the support from their customers and are looking forward to reopening when the health risk has subsided.

The Rail Runner Pit Stop, located in front of the restaurant, will continue to remain open, and will increase its burrito and food production to try and accommodate the needs of the community.

The Luna Mansion in Los Lunas has also decided to close.

“Because the majority of our business comes from our Spirit Lounge, which by virtue of being a bar encourages close proximity of patrons, we find this to be the best way to follow state guidelines and national recommendations,” its Facebook post stated.

Renee Antoinette’s School of Dance in Belen is also temporarily closing, according to its Facebook page.

“… our dance studio will be closed until Sunday, March 29. We will plan on reopening with our regular class schedule on Monday, March 30. We will be sending out all of our clients an email with a private YouTube link to have an online class daily.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.