Khanh Nguyen closed her Riverside and Temecula hair salons three times for a total of six months because of surges in coronavirus cases and associated operating restrictions.

As a result, business fell 40% this past year, she said, at her two Karen Allen Salon & Spa locations.

Nguyen said it would have been worse had she not launched curbside sales of hair products during closures and introduced a service to gain client trust and minimize exposure to the virus when open.

“We called it express color service,” Nguyen said of the latter.

Women coming in to color hair spent 15 minutes in the salon, selecting a preferred color and having hair color applied. Then they drove home, waited and washed. Before the pandemic, women spent two hours in the salon to complete the process, Nguyen said.

Women entrepreneurs throughout the Inland Empire, like their counterparts across the nation, have had innovate to survive these past 12 months.

A recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that the pandemic-induced economic downturn has disproportionately affected women-owned businesses.

An Associated Press report showed that American small businesses have had an especially rough time. And, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, most female entreprenuers own small businesses.

John Husing, chief economist emeritus for the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, said many Inland women business owners work in the consumer services sector that includes hair salons and nail salons.

“And that part of the economy has been terrorized by this downturn,” he said.

Husing said services firms lost 6,600 jobs from 2019 and 2020, or 14.3% of the total employed, in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the area he tracks.

Female entrepreneurs also can be found in the eating-and-drinking sector, which includes restaurants, bars and wineries, where 23,700 jobs — 17.3% — disappeared last year, he said.

Then there is the retail sector, which takes in everything from the small gift or clothing shop to the large merchandise store. That sector lost 11,900 jobs from 2019 to 2020, or 6.6% of all retail jobs, Husing said.

“This doesn’t include those women who had to give up their businesses just because they had to take care of their kids,” Husing added.

Lori Paley didn’t have to give up the Aromatique Skin & Body Care business in Claremont she has owned since 1998. But Paley said she had to absorb a 60% loss in income.

And like Nguyen in Riverside, she had to adapt to a drastically different business climate.

Paley, an esthetician who provides skin care treatments such as facials, said she owns a spa with six treatment rooms attached to a 500-square-foot retail store that sells skin care products, makeup, home decor, jewelry and gift items.

For much of the past year, Paley was unable to do facials.

“I had to rely solely on the retail operation,” she said.

And the store was closed three months.

When the shop reopened in June, Paley allowed two customers in at a time.

“We actually put a chain across the door and hung a sign,” she said. “It had a friendly message saying, ‘We’re at our capacity, we’ll be right with you.’”

Paley found new ways to generate income.

She rebuilt her website. She taught skin care classes on Zoom. She personally delivered products to customers’ homes and introduced curbside service.

She also learned to write applications for federal grants and loans, which compensated for some of the loss.

“I have never had to be so creative in my life as I have had to be this last year,” Paley said. “In my younger days, I used to wear a T-shirt that said, ‘Change is good.’ I really had to live up to that.”

Jovanna Rodriguez, who owns and runs Jovi’s Diner in downtown San Bernardino, has had to live with constantly changing coronavirus restrictions on restaurant operations.

Rodriguez also had to bounce back from the wreckage looters left her eatery in when a protest against George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody turned violent May 31.

“I was upset. I was crying,” Rodriguez said. “There was no front door. There was glass everywhere.”

Rodriguez said she had no choice but to shut down.

“We lost 70% to 80% of our business,” she said.

But volunteers helped clean up the mess and she began to rebuild.

Rodriguez received a boost when she was asked to provide meals twice a week for 250 COVID-19 frontline responders. Then the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians named her diner one of 50 businesses to receive $20,000 grants to help them recover from the downturn.

“It’s just been really hard,” Rodriguez said. “But I do want to say that out of all this darkness the community has come together.”

Rodriguez, like many female entrepreneurs, is more than a business owner.

“I’m a mother,” she said. “I have six children that range from 17 to 4 years old. My No. 1 priority has always been my children.”

Rikki Hubbard, who owns t3 Fitness in Riverside, also is a mom. She has three adopted children: a second grader, kindergartner and toddler.

So, when the coronavirus shuttered her fitness center last spring, she had to balance finding new ways to generate income with helping the children do school studies virtually.

Then Hubbard faced personal challenges. She got COVID-19 in December. A few days later she had a miscarriage.

“I don’t know if they are related or unrelated,” she said. “I just don’t allow myself to go there. I was about 10 weeks along.”

Like Nguyen, Paley and Rodriguez, Hubbard had to innovate.

Hubbard’s fitness center, which caters primarily to women, was “booming” with peak memberships and class registration when the coronavirus hit, she said. She’s had to push through openings and closures.

“It has been a yo-yo game,” she said.

Hubbard pivoted to online programs. She held classes in the parking lot. She helped persuade the Riverside City Council in summer to let gym and fitness-center clients exercise in city parks.

“That made it a little cooler,” she said.

Now she’s back to holding classes indoors, socially distanced with a limited number of participants.

“The vaccinations are really helping people feel safe and comfortable to come back in,” she said. “‘I’m vaccinated and I’m back.’ I’m hearing a lot of that.”

A  mother’s nurturing instinct factored into decisions Sonya Rozzi and Missy Van Zeyl made for their Olive Avenue Market in Redlands, which sells bakery treats, sandwiches, soups, chips, sodas and local vendors’ products such as coffee and organic soap.

“We’re two moms,” Rozzi said. “You have that mom mentality that you want to keep your kids safe. Not that our employees are our kids.”

But they were determined to keep workers and customers safe. So, she said, they closed the market 2 1/2 months last spring, reopening June 7 — the 14th anniversary of their ownership of the 2,000-square-foot market.

Business has yet to fully rebound.

“It’s going to be a slow crawl,” Rozzi said. “As long as it’s moving in the right direction, we’ll be OK.”

So far it is. Business is increasing and they are gradually increasing hours. Before the pandemic, they had two dozen employees. Now they have 16.

“We’re about to hire another baker,” Rozzi said.

Fortunately, the market already had chairs and tables outside for dining.

“We just spaced them out a little more to accommodate social distancing,” Rozzi said.

Kisa Puckett, CEO of KP Media TV in Murrieta, founded a 500-member group called Women Business Owners of Riverside County to help women entrepreneurs innovate.

“This community has helped members adapt to a new world,” she said.

Puckett, who is accustomed to working in the digital world, said the group has helped women discover ways to make money online.

“It has created the opportunity to think outside the box, that’s for sure,” she said. “It is not just about surviving, it’s about thriving, because there is so much opportunity out there.”

Nguyen, owner of Karen Allen Salon & Spa, is thriving because she worked every day even when her salons were shuttered.

“The thought of giving up — I didn’t allow myself to go there,” Nguyen said. “I actually worked 10 times harder than when we were open to try to figure out how to get through this.”

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