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Tucson businesses offering services that can't be replicated hit especially hard by coronavirus

Tucson businesses offering services that can't be replicated hit especially hard by coronavirus

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order series

Indoor playgrounds face a special challenge, given that their customers are young children who may not fully understand the consequences of breaking social distancing rules.

For Tucson business owners whose services require human connection and can’t be packed into a takeout container, the impacts of social distancing due to the novel coronavirus may have long-lasting impacts.

From indoor playgrounds to arcades, bowling alleys, gyms and beauty salons, these business owners face a unique challenge with little alternative to gathering.

“It’s been really tough,” said David Weinstein, co-executive manager of Defy Tucson, an indoor entertainment and trampoline park that opened last year at the shopping center on Stone Avenue and River Road.

“We’ve had several customers email and call us, basically saying they’re bummed that we’re closed,” he said. “But everyone’s health is paramount.”

Defy Tucson’s 50 employees have been furloughed.

“We look forward to bringing them back,” Weinstein said. “We’re optimistic that the closure will be short enough that we won’t have trouble picking up where we left off, but we also want to be a good community citizen and we’re not going to open one day before the government says there’s an all-clear.”

Around town, temporary closure signs are taped to service-based business such as hair salons, nail shops and gyms.

Some bowling alleys have “pizza to go” signs on the front door.

Last week, El Jefe Cat Lounge, which offers visitation with cats in need of adoption, closed and the cats were returned to Hermitage No Kill Cat Shelter.

Opened in October, the novel lounge concept had started to get a steady stream of customers, said co-owner Tiffany Lee.

“We were just starting to hit our goal in February and thought, ‘Yes, this is going to work’ then bam!” she said.

Owner Tiffany Lee gives cats their lunch at El Jefe Cat Lounge. Businesses that offer in-person experiences, such the cat lounge, face a challenge with social distancing.

She said the landlord at her center, on Campbell Avenue, just south of Fort Lowell Road, offered discounted rent for the month of April and she is looking to get a small-business loan.

“The problem is we don’t know how long this is going to last,” Lee said. “How long do we need to borrow?”

GAME PLANNING

Greg Furrier, a retail specialist with Picor Commercial Real Estate Services, said most landlords will be flexible with tenants.

“Every tenant has the rent for April in the bank,” he said. “I think the rent problem will begin as early as May 1.”

If the Small Business Administration comes through with expedited loans, many will survive the closures.

Negotiating with the landlord is crucial, keeping in mind that they have monthly expenses on the property, such as taxes, insurance and maintenance, Furrier said.

But negotiating a reduction in rent or a short-term waiver is worth exploring.

“The service businesses will have a tough time, but I could see fitness taking place in public parks while maintaining social distance,” Furrier said. “Why not set up spin bikes outside? I think people will respond in a positive way and it would help the business keep their customers loyal until the mess is over.”

Communication and creativity is key, said Michael Coretz, with Commercial Real Estate Group of Tucson.

“For all businesses, not only destination businesses, building communication with your employees, customers and landlords is important for you to benefit from when you reopen your business,” he said. “Wineries having virtual happy hours, virtual exercise programs are just a few examples I have seen.”

Still, small businesses should plan for worst-case scenario, Coretz said.

“Reduce your spending by refinancing and taking advantage of the low-interest rate loans or economic relief programs that are available to help you weather this storm,” he said. “Renegotiate leases and offer to extend terms for waivers now.”

Most importantly, if you lease space, reach out to your landlord.

“They know your business is impacted, but they may not know how much it’s impacted,” Coretz said. “Tenants have a tremendous amount of leverage right now (because) the landlord has every incentive to be flexible — it’s better to have a filled space than an empty one.”

For property owners that have mortgages, banks will show some flexibility for a few months.

“The economy was strong prior to this pandemic,” Coretz said. “Depending on how long this lasts, once it’s over there will be pent-up demand by the consumers and the economy will bounce back.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com or

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