Over a dozen Santa Cruz storefronts have shuttered their doors since March, including iconic haunts 99 Bottles and The Poet & The Patriot Irish Pub.

But over the same span of time, about 90 businesses received new licenses in the city of Santa Cruz, including personal businesses and online-only stores. For those businesses that have withstood the COVID-19 storm, many have discovered new, innovative ways to stay afloat. 

Cosmic Muffin Cafe

Deborah Costella has 17 years of experience as a chef, culinary instructor, and food writer. With Cosmic Muffin Cafe, she brought that experience into the homes of her customers —that is, before the pandemic interrupted in-person sessions.

Costella, a warm and bright teacher, wants to show her customers how to make the food she prepares for them. Her specialties are Italian and Latin cuisines, but she also has a background in French, vegetarian, spa, and Indian cuisines.  

Costella started her business in Las Vegas and has expanded to Santa Cruz, where she now primarily operates. Since the pandemic hit, she’s had to shift her operations. However, this shift brought a different sort of opportunity for her business. 

“I am able to extend my classes to people far outside of Santa Cruz; Vegas for one, as well as participants in other cities and states,” Costella said in an email.  She not only has increased exposure for her business, but she can deliver food to customers who are now more sedentary.

With Cosmic Muffin Cafe, Costella is a personal chef who can be hired for individuals or groups, and for anyone ages 8 and up. She meets with customers and works with them to address any dietary restrictions, likes and dislikes, and formulates a meal to suit them. Then, she teaches them how to cook the foods she prepared.

Chef Deborah Costella dices green onions as she prepares a meal. Photo courtesy of Costella.

Through a monthly cooking class called the Cosmic Muffin Cafe Cook-Along, Costella teaches groups how to prepare different types of food. In September, she taught how to make lobster mac n’ cheese and a composed citrus salad on satiny butter lettuce.  

Her process as a personal chef and culinary instructor has not changed since the virus began, though it is completely online.  She has a conversation with her customers over Zoom, prepares the food, then delivers it to their doorstep, contact-free.  She performs her culinary instruction through Zoom.  

As public health virus protections begin to loosen, Costella doesn’t see an immediate need for her business to return to normal.  

“I’m hearing a lot of apprehension with regards to indoor gatherings. We’ve already experienced an ‘opening,’ then things closed up again,” Costella said in an email.  

Costella plans on continuing Cosmic Muffin Cafe’s cook-alongs, limiting in-person dining options to groups of six or less.

Felton Music Hall and the Catalyst

Across the country, the  COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the music industry, particularly small venues like Felton Music Hall and The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. 

“It’s been brutal, there’s no nice way around it,” said Thomas Cussins, president of Ineffable Music, which manages both venues. “Music venues are the first to close, and last to open. Luckily, Felton is a restaurant as well.”

Santa Cruz County has long been home to many small independent music venues, including the Catalyst and, more recently, Felton Music Hall, which opened in July of last year. 

“We were just really hitting our stride and had an amazing line up scheduled for the rest of March and April and through the summer,” Cussins said. 

In light of the prolonged reopening process, the future of live music in Santa Cruz County and beyond remains uncertain at best. Cussins said that Felton Music Hall was lucky to have its restaurant for takeaway orders, which generate some revenue, as live events remain untenable. 

“Concerts are over 70 percent of our entire revenue. Felton is losing a lot of money every month right now,” Cussins said. “We cannot sustain that business on the restaurant sales, although the fried chicken is really, really good. [For] other venues like the Catalyst, there is zero revenue. Just nothing.”

There remains some hope of federal support. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), is lobbying for the Save Our Stages Act, which is currently sponsored in the Senate by a bipartisan coalition including Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill would provide venues and live entertainment operators with unique eligibility criteria for federal grants, without the payroll requirements  specified for small businesses in the Paycheck Protection Program, which was passed earlier this year. 

“Over 70 venues [nationwide] have already closed and venues plan far out,” Cussins said. “So I fear that if we can’t go back to concerts, it’s going to wipe out up to 90 percent of these [smaller] venues.” 

Cussins said that spaces like the Felton Music Hall remain vital in the communities they inhabit and described a performance given by the actor and musician Billy Bob Thornton put on last year at the Felton Music Hall. 

“Billy Bob was there strolling down the street in Felton and going to a gem shop where he bought some gems, went to a bar and had a drink,” Cussins said. “It’s not just customers, it’s the bands and crews that support the local economies as well.” 

Cali’s Barber Shop and Art

Three months ago, walking downtown along Mission Street, you might have spotted a barber’s chair set up in front of a small, colorful cottage, surrounded by flowers, and a woman wielding scissors. 

Cali Guandia-Brown, owner and sole coiffeur of Cali’s Barber Shop and Art, said that although recent fires and the occasional gust of wind have forced her business back indoors, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t prevented her from continuing to give haircuts for about $30 each.

“It’s going to be hard for me,” Guandia-Brown said. “People don’t want to spend money now.”

Like a Paris Salon, paintings fill the walls of Guandia-Brown’s shop. All are of her own creation, and render in vivid hues scenes from the beaches of Santa Cruz, still lifes, and abstract meditations on modern politics. One painting, displayed prominently above a mirror, depicts a stylized version of the 1969 moon landing, with the logos of major U.S. companies sticking out of the lunar soil. 

“I would like to make one about about Trump,” Guandia-Brown said. “Him carrying suitcases filled with children.”

Over the course of this summer, Guandia-Brown said her revenues dropped as much as 50 percent compared to the same time last year. Much of her business comes from UC Santa Cruz students, a rare commodity in the Zoom University era, and with the decline of the tourist season, Guandia-Brown said in recent months she’s received few visitors interested in purchasing her paintings. 

Still, she’s optimistic about her prospects for the future.

“I’ve been painting for many years, and one of these days I’m going to open my own gallery,” Guandia-Brown said. “Only a gallery, not a barber shop.”