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The pandemic exposed small businesses’ vulnerabilities—and how to fix them

Illustration by Jovaney Hollingsworth
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated on

Sipping a strong drink outside with friends, jazz music in the air, you could almost forget the pandemic—except for masks dangling around everyone’s chins.

Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, California has been closed to auto traffic through a program called flex streets, allowing watering holes like Bar Shiru to set up their tables in the street for socially-distanced service. To limit menus, credit cards, or cash from passing back and forth between customers and servers, ordering and payment is done on customers’ own mobile phones, enabled by QR codes. Even the servers have a different glow: In the Covid era, they are “essential workers,” with early vaccine eligibility. The idea of supporting their places of employment has an added tinge of moral righteousness.

“The way we kind of put the pieces together and tried to make ends meet was by essentially re-inventing our business what seemed like every two weeks,” says Daniel Gahr, who owns the Japanese-style record bar with partner Shirin Raza, “all the while chasing down every last penny of aid we could get.”

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