SAN DIEGO — Melodie Holmen really wanted to have her hair cut and colored Saturday, and her hairdresser was eager to comply.
But Holmen’s spouse is a cancer survivor. Spending time with another person, the San Diego resident felt, was just too risky.
“So when I mentioned my husband’s health as a concern, she immediately understood,” Holmen wrote in a recent online exchange. “But she needs to pay her bills, too … “
What to do?
In the coronavirus era, business owners are not the only ones weighing their obligations to their employees. Ordinary San Diegans wonder what to do about people they pay for a wide range of regular services — child care, massages, house cleaning, physical training — that are suddenly unavailable or inadvisable.
Maybe you’ve been laid off or have pressing financial needs. But, as Holmen said, these people have bills, too.
Then there’s the money spent on tickets to Padres games, theater and opera productions, annual passes to SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo, memberships to museums and other currently closed attractions.
If we ask for refunds, will we cripple these enterprises, which still need to pay rent, utilities, salaries and other expenses?
What is our responsibility to the greater community?
“That’s the thing about crisis situations,” said Lawrence Hinman, a University of San Diego philosophy professor emeritus. “Pretty quickly you find out who you really are, and who other people really are.”
What to do?
Melodie Holmen canceled her appointment. Then she wrote a $100 check to her hairdresser.
“She’s a nice lady,” Holmen commented, “and really makes an effort to give me the look I want.”
Month to monthLike many of the San Diego County YMCA’s 262,109 members, J.D. Braun has her monthly dues automatically deducted from her checking account. The March fee had already cleared when all the Ys closed their doors, but Braun didn’t ask for her money back.
And she’ll pay April’s fee and May’s and so on, until the shutdown ends.
“I know the Y does more than just provide a place to work out,” said Braun, a Mesa College journalism professor, citing the nonprofit’s scholarships, camps and classes. “So I think it is especially important that I still support them.”
Not everyone takes this position, noted Courtney Pendleton, a YMCA spokeswoman. Some have canceled their memberships — “largely due to their own financial setbacks,” Pendleton said — while others ask for partial refunds.
“Most of the members who are contacting us right now are electing to put a hold on their membership,” Pendleton said. “That means they won’t be charged until we open again.”
Yolanda Medina is doubly committed to her two gyms, Title Boxing in North Park and Belle and Barre in Hillcrest. While both are closed, the University Heights resident is determined to continue paying around $200 a month, in hopes that these fees will support the staff.
“A lot of the staff rely solely on that salary,” Medina said, “so they need help.”
James Hall would like to support his gym, but is frustrated by his inability to speak with anyone at the Boxing Club Sport & Fitness about his account. His calls have gone to voicemail, with no return call. He had somewhat better luck with email.
“Great question in regard to the status of your account!” the company’s email response read. “Your account will be credited when The Boxing Club is open.”
The message noted that managers could not communicate with him while the gym was closed, “but we will have a manager reach out to you once we reopen.”
Hall, a San Diego resident, was less than impressed.
“What if I was struggling?” he asked. (Rhetorical question. He’s employed as a software engineer, working remotely.) “At times like this, you should be transparent with your customers, talk to them, tell them what is going on.”
A longer year
The San Diego Zoo, which closed its gates March 16, promised to automatically extend annual pass memberships “for a length of time at least as long as the temporary closure period.”
SeaWorld, which last week announced the layoffs of 90% of its employees, made a similar pledge.
“Expiration dates for active anniversary passes and other membership products will be automatically extended for a length of time at least as long as the temporary closure period,” said Kelly Terry, a spokeswoman for the park. “No action is required on the part of guests.”
Arts organizations that have delayed or canceled upcoming productions have tried to reassure ticket holders.
A March 13 email from the Old Globe, which had a March calendar that included the opening of “Little Women” and “Faceless,” urged patrons to “hold on to your tickets for the next few weeks and we will be back in touch with you with ticket information and the available ticketing options.
“The Old Globe artists, staff, and board are grateful for your understanding and support in these challenging times.”
The North County Repertory Theater has canceled its next show, “Homecoming,” which was to open April 8 and run through May 3.
“People can either donate the ticket cost back to theater, which is tax deductible, or have the amount put on a gift card, like a credit that can be used for any future production here or get a refund,” said Amy Aznet, who works in the Solana Beach theater’s box office.
What’s been the response?
“It’s kind of all over the place,” she said. “Most of our subscribers are doing the donation route.”
‘Housekeeper dilemma’Dealing with well-established businesses is one thing. Deciding whether to pay individuals who work in your home is another.
“In some sense,” said Hinman, the USD professor whose expertise includes ethics, “these are extended family members.”
Wes Daniel, a Normal Heights resident, agreed: “I’m still paying my housekeeper and landscaper — both small, independent businesses, sole proprietorships — so they can continue to stay afloat.”
Some people, though, are swamped by their own financial difficulties. Others object to paying for work that isn’t done.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance is trying to step into this breach. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has promised $400 grants to home care workers, nannies and house cleaners who are now unemployed.
As of Saturday, the group’s Coronavirus Care Fund had collected $2.5 million in donations.
Hinman noted that many people face “the housekeeper dilemma.” They don’t want the housekeeper to continue coming into their homes — for the protection of both the worker and the homeowner — yet most of these people scrape by on low wages, lacking sick leave or retirement funds.
For instance, the woman who cleans the retired professor’s Poway home.
“I’m sure we are not squeezed nearly as much as she is,” Hinman said. “To the extent that we can we should try to distribute the burden more equally. But this should be a choice.”
These choices can reveal our beliefs about ourselves and the society we envision.
“One of the alleged cornerstones of American democracy is individual freedom,” Hinman said. “In this time, you really have interesting questions about individual freedoms — do I self-quarantine? — and our responsibilities to the larger group.”
Inevitable conflictsSometimes, there are disputes over where this responsibility lies.
Karen Bonner paid close to $11,000 for her daughter, an eighth-grader, and her husband to take an educational East Coast trip. The group from Chula Vista’s Discovery Charter School had planned to fly from San Diego on March 21.
Apple Student Tours, the agency behind this trip, announced March 11 that it has been postponed and will be rescheduled, perhaps in the summer,
Bonner’s daughter, though, has other summer plans. Family members’ health issues also made them wary about travel, even months from now.
“Apple Tours told us these conditions are pre-existing, so you don’t get 100% cancellation, only a 75% refund minus fees,” Bonner said. “I don’t want to appear petty while people are dying, but … “
In an email sent Friday afternoon, Yuval Bauman, Apple’s director of sales, said he was too busy to be interviewed, but would respond to written questions “as time allows.”
As of Saturday afternoon, Bauman had not replied to questions about refunds for the Bonners and others who had paid for this trip.
Communication, while difficult with offices closed and staffers working from home or furloughed, is essential, said Octavio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez’s San Diego company, Clean and Green, cleans restaurants, bars and breweries — places that are now closed. That was bad timing for Gonzalez. He and his wife bought their first home late last year and welcomed their first child in February.
“For first-time parents and someone who is self-employed, it’s scary,” he said. “Overnight, 90% of my business was gone.”
On Monday, though, he took an unexpected call from Ian Black.
Owner of Toronado San Diego, Black had planned to close the beer bar even before the pandemic hit. Now, the place is open for limited hours for to-go orders and to a limited number of customers, as Black sells off his inventory. (Customers sign up for 20-minute windows; for information, check Toronado San Diego’s Facebook page.)
Black settled his Clean and Green account, then hired Gonzalez to clean two days a week.
Suddenly, Gonzalez glimpsed a business opportunity. His clientele needs his services more than ever.
“Before they re-open,” Gonzalez said, “we will come in and sanitize the place.”
That’s not all. Clean and Green would leave behind industrial strength supplies for spot cleanups, and offer stickers — “like the Yelp stickers,” Gonzalez said — to display, assuring patrons that this establishment respects their health.
What to do? Gonzalez has some suggestions.
“If we can change our ways of working just a little bit,” he said, “I think we will come out of this OK.”