Stories from our communities: Part one

As the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to take a toll on our communities and their livelihoods, as us students are at home doing online schooling, we wanted to report on the COVID-19 experience happening in our own backyards.

Kazuaki Nishimura (middle) taking a phone order while the main chef (left) cooks and the manager (right) waits for customers to serve on Sunday, Aug. 30. (Madi Phan/ The Union)

11:10 a.m. | Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen, Gardena

By: Madi Phan

The Target on the other side of the plaza bustles with people as this small ramen restaurant is starting its day by preparing for customers. Ten minutes after opening, two customers arrive and are seated at one of the eight outdoor tables as the phone rings.

Shin-Sen-Gumi’s Hakata Ramen restaurant in Gardena reopened its doors in June after temporarily closing back in March due to COVID-19. 

Being one of the three people working the morning shift, 26-year-old Kazuaki Nishimura was working as both a server and a ramen chef. He wore a yellow rag as a makeshift hairnet and an apron around his waist.

“We used to be a really busy restaurant,” Nishimura said. “When we first started opening there were only a few people who started working. There were some people who had to leave and some who had to stay home.”

The decrease in staff and new safety guidelines created challenges for the workers. With only a few people working at once, they are all busy trying to fulfill phone, online, and dine-in orders.

In addition to serving and preparing food, Hakata Ramen’s workers also have to sanitize menus, tables, chairs, and sauce bottles.

And although they are busy with to-go orders, their sales have actually dropped since the beginning of COVID-19. However, the employees remain optimistic.

“Sales wise it is less [than before],” Nishimura said. “But we get a lot of to-go orders so it’s increasing little by little.”

On Aug. 30, Lucky Silva’s nurturing hands handle her favorite pink roses in her organic garden. Since the pandemic, one of the few things that has given her joy has been tending to her flowers. – “I’m happy when I see flowers.” (Walter Jay Jr./The Union)

7:16 pm | Lawndale, CA

By: Walter Jay Jr.

Overcast, quiet and brisk, the mood of the evening describes the weather. Lucky Silva, a nurse at Centinela Hospital, tends to her garden. 

She enthusiastically starts conversations with all passers by. Lucky is an essential frontline worker, an operating room nurse at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood. Making people feel calm in a crisis is part of her job, but sometimes she worries these days.

“I worry about sickness, like [the] Corona kind of sickness. A worldwide sickness.” Silva said.

Silva has lost much to this pandemic. In May, she lost her husband who worked at a hospice facility in Beverly Hills. Three weeks later, she lost her brother-in-law to Covid-19 as well. Even though her age and pre-existing heart condition puts her at a higher risk, she still goes to work every day.

“I have to do my part. You know, we all have to do our part. I may be high risk, but the patient comes first. That’s the promise I made you know, all those years ago. I’ve been a nurse since 1972.” Silva said.

Despite her recent losses and personal health concerns, Silva remains optimistic about the future. And until then, she is happy tending to her vegetable garden, fruit trees and flowers. 

“I’m happy when I see flowers,” Silva said.

The La Sirenita ice-cream truck stops for a line of customers. A woman orders food from the truck. (Jeniffer Torres/ The Union)

4:17 p.m. | Neighborhood streets, Inglewood

By: Jeniffer Torres 

Rattling through the quiet streets of a neighborhood discreetly hidden behind a Costco, La Sirenita ice-cream truck stops for a line of customers carefully placing themselves six feet apart.

An old, gentle-faced woman approaches the window to attend her first client, a young boy with a face mask who buys two cans of sprite and a candy bar, but she does not return him the kindness of wearing a mask.

63-year-old Maria Rodriguez has owned the ice-cream truck for 10 years and takes turns with her husband driving around Inglewood neighborhoods selling a myriad of candies, sodas, and chips alongside their ice-cream menu.

“When it [COVID-19] was worse, yes, sells dropped a lot,” she said in Spanish. “But now suddenly, there’s a lot more.”   

Through teary eyes, she reflected on what else COVID-19 has cost her.

“I’ve lost family, friends, and coworkers,” she said, wiping her maskless face with bare hands.

 A sign on the side of the truck reminds clients to practice social distancing, carefully placed next to an A rating from the Health Department. She assures COVID-19 has deeply affected her emotionally, but she remains strong.

“[I’m] always with apprehension,” she said. “Not fear, but with apprehension.”

10:20 a.m. Lunada Bay Plaza, Palos Verdes Peninsula

By: Camden Foster

In a sleepy corner of Lunada Bay on the Palos Verdes Peninsula at 10: 20 a.m., Anne Banken, owner of Annie’s Boutique, is doing a quick disinfectant wipe down around the store while listening to some upbeat pop music.  

After being shut down from March 13 to around Mother’s Day, Banken had to get creative to keep her clothing boutique running. She used to go to Downtown Los Angeles to gather unique clothing articles and home décor items for her store but now she resorts to ordering and finding them online.

COVID-19 has also pushed Banken to develop more of an online presence. She opened an account on Etsy and built a social media presence to advertise for her business. Banken now advertises her boutique on Instagram @anniesboutiquepv.

 “I’ve gone from brick and mortar to needing an online presence to make this work,” Banken, shop owner and Redondo Beach resident said.

By expanding her business online, Banken was able to keep her business semi-operational during the shutdown. And even after the store has opened again, Banken relies on the website and gift cards to maintain her business.

Banken didn’t stop at building a presence for just her business but also collaborated with her fellow small businesses in the Lunada Bay Plaza to build a website to promote all of their small businesses. There, they can all advertise, sell gift cards and encourage customers to leave Yelp reviews.

While Banken works toward growing her business, health remains a top concern.

“I take care of my elderly mother and I see her everyday so I have to be extremely cautious,” Banken said. “This is why I have reduced my hours, and can’t let people try things on or allow returns.”

Despite all the hardships, Banken is grateful to her loyal customers that have supported her and her store by shopping online, buying gift cards and by coming to the store.

 “I focus on waking up and being positive that my business will succeed,” Banken said, “I started my business in 2008 during the recession and made it through that and I will make it through this.”

Jigyun Park ready to work in the morning with protection at Tous Les Jours. (Ice Yau/ The Union)

8:35 a.m. | Tous Les Jours, Torrance

By: Ice Yau

Two baristas, four bakers, Tous Les Jours still opens at 8:00 a.m. every day on the Pacific Coast Highway. 

 26-years-old Jihyun Park wears a brown and white uniform, with gloves and a mask. She was a student and a part-time photographer, but now she is a part-time baker. 

“I used to work at a photo studio. But after the corona getting worse, the studio shut down.” Park said. 

She used to take family portraits, business profiles, and edit photos at a studio in LA. She was also an art major, but she found a lot of limitations since classes moved online, so she decided to stop taking them.

“It doesn’t fit for me, I like to learn from the professor, and ask or answer the questions in person. I didn’t like it,” she said, “the tuition is expensive and I thought it [wasn’t] fair to take online classes.” 

The Coronavirus Pandemic brings all kinds of negativity to her and the people around her, she feels helpless that many people are facing a huge flip in their lives. Some people are losing their normal incomes and taking a serious financial hit. 

She said the only thing she felt grateful for was the unemployment benefits from the government. After the photo studio shut down the federal government gave her $600 per month, so that she didn’t have any financial problems.

Working as a photographer and studying art were passions in her life. Although the sudden loss depresses her, she remains positive about the situation and her job at the bakery.

“Everything changed after the COVID-19,” Park said. 

1:50 p.m. | The Gardena Florist, Gardena 

By: Ali Davenport

Sung Chang sits in his flower shop, The Gardena Florist, on a slow afternoon. Business has not been booming as usual, and the culprit is COVID-19.

Chang, a 54-year-old Korean native, took over the family business in 2007 after his sister became busy with her kids. The Gardena Florist has been in his family since 1980. He spoke with deep sadness when reliving the memories of his closed shop from March 22 to May 8.

“It’s terrible. Over 45 days we cannot open. It is terrible,” he said.

Although Chang has been able to maintain his staff, some haven’t taken the opportunity to work because they fear working will jeopardize their health.

“[One employee] is like a 65-year-old woman, so she’s worried about if she gets infected from COVID-19. She doesn’t wish to, so she just stays home,” Chang explained.

The pandemic along with the competition from larger corporations, has slowed his business immensely.  

“Because of the COVID-19, people don’t come. They don’t work. And then they lose their jobs and they cannot spend the money. They have no need for flowers,” he said.

Funerals are one of the few sources of business for The Gardena Florist, but with limited gathering sizes, most buy their flowers from the grocery store.

Chang noted one silver lining, an increase in summer business compared to last spring. Customers are now ordering online or by phone, for pickup or delivery.

“I hope for better business. How do I pay the rent? That kind of stuff is very difficult,” Chang said.

Charly’s Restaurant with an outside dining table on the corner of Manchester Avenue. and Inglewood Avenue (Oscar Macias/ The Union)

12:40 p.m. Charly’s Restaurant, Inglewood

By: Oscar Macias

On the corner of Manchester Avenue and Inglewood Avenue, sits a small shopping center with businesses and restaurants. Near the end sat Charly’s Restaurant, a small family owned business run by the Orozcos. 

As you walk in you see the colorful menu filled with assortments of food ranging from taco plates with rice and beans to specialty plates such as their Charly’s Nachos, filled with meat, beans, cheese, and guacamole.  

One can also observe the empty booths and chairs where people used to sit in and the few sets of tables placed outside for dining. 

“Many people usually try to sit in the booths even though we tell them that we only have outside seating,” Alejandra Orozco, Cashier, said. “Luckily we have always had money for a rainy day and it’s definitely rained.”

Orozco continued to explain how, while the pandemic has been rough for them, they have luckily never needed to send their employees home or close shop up entirely. 

“We were one of the lucky few who were able to stay open when the pandemic began, Orozco said as she pointed to the recently re-opened liquor store across from the restaurant within the same center which had not been so lucky.

Part two will be published on Thursday, Sept. 24