WASHINGTON—Tire dealers in seven northern California counties are doing the best they can to protect their businesses and their employees in the face of a “shelter-in-place” order occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities in those counties — San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Cruz — have restricted the 6.7 million residents of those counties from all “non-essential travel” until April 7.
This means that people in those counties cannot leave their homes except to shop for food and health care supplies, go to the bank, or help family and friends. Only non-residents in those counties may leave the area during the lockdown. The order has forced a shutdown of all retail businesses that are deemed non-essential.
Fortunately for gas stations and auto repair and maintenance facilities, including those that sell tires, they are among the businesses designated as essential to public safety in the lockdown order.
Food delivery is still allowed, as are certain forms of outdoor recreation such as hiking and dog-walking. Residents who violate the order are subject to arrest, fines and jail time.
Different tire dealerships reported different situations, depending on location. Some said that business stayed strong, while others saw severe slowdowns.
Bruce’s Tire & Auto Service, an eight-store chain based in San Jose, was doing very well the week of March 16, according to its president, Richie Howard.
“Business is up 7% for the month,” Mr. Howard said. “Technically our car count is down, but business is still strong.
“Thing are down in a couple of stores, and we’ve been sending a few people home early,” he said. “I imagine things will start crashing down next week.”
Meanwhile, Bruce’s Tire is changing its operating procedures to follow guidelines for fighting the coronavirus, according to Mr. Howard.
“We’ve been cleaning everything and making our people wash their hands,” he said. “We also have hand sanitizer everywhere. But so far out of 80 employees, we’ve only had three call in sick this week, and none of them had symptoms consistent with coronavirus.”
Santa Rosa, Calif.-based McLea’s Tire & Automotive Centers has all its locations in Sonoma County, north of the counties under the shelter-in-place order, according to McLea’s President Darren McLea.
Sonoma County is under the same guidelines as those counties, although the guidelines don’t have the force of an edict there, Mr. McLea said. But in any case, auto repair shops are also designated as essential businesses in Sonoma County, he said.
“We had a great start to the month, and it’s still a strong month,” Mr. McLea said. “We’ve had some cancellations, but we’re digging through our past orders. We’ve had to get creative. If it’s a big enough job, we’ll go out, pick up the car, fix it and bring it back.”
Otherwise, Mr. McLea said, “We’re just concentrating on keeping our employees happy and positive.”
Kendal Savelli, president of Malugani Tire Center in Mill Valley, Calif., said her store was strictly following the order and would condense all existing customer appointments into March 16 and 17, shutting down at the end of the day March 17 for the duration of the order.
Malugani Tire will pay all its employees during the shutdown, according to Ms. Savelli.
Asked what the effect of the shutdown would be on her business, Ms. Savelli said, “I haven’t let myself go there yet, because I didn’t want to make a decision based solely on money. But I imagine it will have a significant impact.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Savelli said she expected the business to survive and to make up at least some of its losses as loyal customers return for tires and service.
“This is our hometown, where we all grew up,” she said. “People in this town are very loyal, and the feedback from our customers is that they’re very pleased to know we are taking care of our people.”
Dave Parks, owner of Brentwood Tire in Brentwood, Calif., said he and his employees were waiting to see how the lockdown goes.
“We’re finishing up a couple of jobs and getting geared up for the quarantine,” Mr. Parks said March 17. He also said he was pulling facts and figures together to obtain unemployment benefits for his employees.
Asked how he expected the shutdown to affect his business, Mr. Parks said, “That crystal ball isn’t working.”
Lou Seever, owner of Seever & Sons Tire in Pleasanton, Calif., said on March 17 that his business had taken care of its wholesale orders and was winding down business.
“We are getting a handful of customers for flat tires and emergency service,” Mr. Seever said. “After we get things put away and the floor swept, I’ll take volunteers to go home.”
Seever & Sons plans to keep all its people employed during the shutdown, he said. “We’re doing our best to make sure our employees don’t get into any sort of financial bind,” he said.
After the lockdown is over, Mr. Seever said, his store will just do what it’s always done as an independent tire dealer, which is to take care of its customers.
“2020 isn’t going to be as great as 2019, but we’ve had problems before and we’ve worked through them,” he said.