Technology gives, technology wins

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It’s a hot Friday afternoon in a Mountain View sports pub a stone’s throw from several Google offices, and tables inside and outside are expected to be filled with people celebrating the end of the work week. . But the long bar with 80 seats is closed by coronavirus regulations, and on the outdoor patio – despite efforts to attract people – there are only a dozen patrons eating and drinking in a space of more than 200 people.In this city with an economy heavily dependent on an army of tech industry day workers, thousands of whom are usually taken care of by their employers, the The shift to remote work is wreaking financial havoc on a wide range of Mountain View businesses, even as the city’s largest employer brings new income and pandemic aid.

“We’re surrounded by Google here, and Microsoft is right there. Lots of small businesses too, ”says Jackie Graham, who has owned The Sports Page with her husband, Rob, for 28 years. “We were busy almost every day because of the surrounding businesses.”

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – SEPTEMBER 14: From left to right, patrons Guy Reichman, Lawrence Lin and Michael Dellosso spend time on the patio at Sports Page Bar & Grill in Mountain View, Calif. On September 14, 2020 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

Now the Grahams have pulled the net from the sand volleyball court and surrounded the expanse with socially distanced picnic tables pulled from the patio, where they’ve mounted three giant screen TVs along the “fair” back fence. to try to bring people in, ”Graham says.

The sports page kept its five bartenders, but to significantly reduced hours. Graham estimates that revenues have increased 70% from the pre-pandemic time.

Elsewhere in the city of 83,000, where the most recent census data from 2012 showed annual retail sales to exceed $ 1 billion and hotel and restaurant services grossing nearly $ 300 million per year. year, stores, hotels and restaurants are largely deserted. Even when the closed Castro Street becomes lively in the evening, spacing warrants dramatically reduce the number of diners and drinkers. Cities in the Bay Area, from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton to Cupertino, face similar challenges.

But Mountain View, whose largest employer has enough workers to fill its own small town, enjoys a few perks that other cities don’t – even when the offices and campuses of that employer and others are for the sake of it. mostly empty.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” says City Manager Kimbra McCarthy. Without eating, drinking or shopping for tens of thousands of technicians, many of whom live outside of town, Mountain View has taken a big hit on sales tax revenue. Hotel tax revenues also fell.

But in a region that is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, property taxes remain the main source of income. City-owned properties bring in an additional $ 21 million per year, with Google being the largest tenant.

In addition, the city has new revenue from businesses this year: Mountain View’s per employee tax went into effect on January 1. Google, the city’s largest employer with 23,000 employees at its headquarters, is expected to pay more than half of the $ 6 million annually to be high.

“A lot of cities don’t have that revenue base, so maybe sales tax would play a bigger role in their revenue stream,” McCarthy says.

The temporary closure of Castro Street, an experiment many other cities are replicating to provide more space for outdoor dining, provides a lifeline for restaurants, but is far from a cure for their COVID ailments -19. On a recent Monday at lunchtime, a few people were scattered among the restaurant tables on the pavement. Last year the restaurants would have been crowded.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – SEPTEMBER 14: Left to right, colleagues Paul Carlisle, Frank Tuzzolino, and Casey Golliher have lunch on a nearly empty Castro Street in downtown Mountain View, CA on September 14, 2020. Castro Street was closed to traffic for outdoor dining. (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

“We barely have any customers,” says Rabi Sharma, supervisor and server at Quality Bourbons and Barbecue, which has cut food and drink prices by a third ten%. “I have two tables and I walk around.”

Up the street at the Therapy Stores novelty store, foot traffic plummeted as the street closed, which the city could extend until the end of the year. Although online sales are on the rise, this store is the biggest revenue generator in the Bay Area family chain, and relies heavily on the city’s largest industry, said deputy manager Morgan Guidry.

“We would have so much Google traffic, so much tech traffic,” Guidry said. “Even the smallest tech companies, we would get traffic from them.”

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – SEPTEMBER 14: Morgan Guidry, Assistant Director of Therapy Stores, is seen in the mirror as she speaks with this news organization on September 14, 2020, in downtown Mountain View, Calif. (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

Activity is down by around 27% and staff the hours have been cut in half, she says.

Yet the city’s flashiest street, Peter Katz, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, is quick to point out, “isn’t all Mountain View.

In a mall along El Camino Real, dozens of violins hang from the shelves of Sono Strings, and larger stringed instruments lean against the walls. Most sales and rentals have become impossible even with curbside pickup as instruments have to be sized in person.

“You can’t do business if you’re not open,” says co-owner Connie Tse, 51, wearing a “Viola Vampire” t-shirt.

About 80 percent of the store’s customers are in tech, co-owner Jason Yoon, 34, estimates. Like other members of the city’s small business community, Tse cited the challenge of tackling the pandemic in a city with “extremely high” commercial rents.

Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga pointed out that the city runs a micro-loan program that has provided funds to around 100 businesses so far.

Tse and his partners said they had not received help from the city. Of the $ 900,000 fund, $ 400,000 came from Google after its annual developer conference was canceled because of the virus.

The company has provided more than $ 1 million in aid in various forms to help Mountain View businesses and residents overcome the pandemic, spokesman Michael Appel said. LinkedIn, headquartered in Sunnyvale, donated $ 100,000 to help small businesses in Mountain View.

Over the years, the contributions of the tech industry to Mountain View, along with other solid sources of income, have pushed the city into a relatively favorable position for troubled times, Abe-Koga says.

“We always put money aside for rainy days,” says Abe-Koga. “It all comes into play now to keep us afloat.”

Tech companies have kept many of their Mountain View workers employed, albeit at a distance, which has helped keep the city’s unemployment rate at 6%, Abe-Koga said.

But the chamber’s Katz is concerned that many tech workers who frequented local businesses may be gone for some time. Google is taking what its CEO has called a “slow, deliberate and gradual” approach and says its employees can work from home at least until next June.

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