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Small businesses look forward to 2022, while coping with mounting losses dealt by the pandemic

By NICK GARCIA Published Dec 31, 2021 10:34 am

A number of businesses are still licking their wounds and coming to terms with how the COVID-19 pandemic dealt them losses and changed the business landscape. Still, they're optimistic that the coming 2022 will be kinder.

Tiny Tavern, a watering hole located at the forefront of the Pioneer St. Market food park along Reliance Street in Mandaluyong, used to be frequented by crowds after office hours. It's a favorite hang-out spot of those from the surrounding offices and residential units.

A lifeless Tiny Tavern during the government lockdown. Photo taken by the author.

Co-owner and founder Tiny Tanos, 50, told PhilSTAR L!fe that before the pandemic, Tiny Tavern used to earn as much as five digits in a single digit from the regular traffic of hundreds of customers on a usual day.

But the government-imposed lockdowns due to the pandemic forced Tiny Tavern to call closing time way earlier and for a long stretch, saw its usual stream of customers wiped out and, consequently, also its profit margins. Though business restrictions started to ease down recently as COVID cases tapered off, the operation is still far from what it usually was.

These days, Tanos said they're already lucky to cater to 10 to 20 customers and earn a few hundreds of pesos.

Tiny Tavern barkeepers

Jerald Alignay (left) and Paulo Antonio (right), the barkeepers of Tiny Tavern. Photo from Tiny Tavern's Facebook page.

Tiny Tavern’s shutdown has been especially difficult for Jerald Alignay, 29, and Paulo Antonio, 25, its barkeepers of over three years. Staying locked up at home, they said, has taken its toll on their mental health.

“Ang lungkot, wala kaming trabaho noon,” Alignay said. "Kahit na gusto mong gumala, hindi ka makagala.”

“Noong una, medyo ang hirap, parang nakakabaliw,” Antonio said. “Eventually, nasanay din ako.”

Like many Filipinos, the pandemic has deeply affected their livelihood and their ability to provide for their families.

Aside from their daily income, Alignay and Antonio said they heavily depend on customer tips. With Tiny Tavern having closed doors, it meant earning not even a peso for the duration of the lockdown.

Staying in the business

Tiny Tanos, the owner of Tiny Tavern, seated at the counter before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Tanos's Facebook account.

Tanos said she's been giving the staff ayudas in the form of groceries and cash to help tide everyone over during the pandemic.

“From time to time, we'd (also) meet with each other and have lunch,” Tanos said.

The most pathetic sale was just a can of soda on a Sunday. We have our highs and lows in the market.

Despite the ever-mounting losses, which led to several other businesses across the country to pull their plugs with heavy hearts, Tanos emphasized that quitting has never been an option for Tiny Tavern.

“Staying in business is not only for us, but it's also for the boys,” she said, referring to the duo.

Even before the pandemic, Tanos has taken pride in how her business has been no stranger to bad days.

“The most pathetic sale was just a can of soda on a Sunday,” Tanos said. “We have our highs and lows in the market."

During the pandemic, Tanos also established another business in Tiny Tango, an online charcuterie store.

“We never thought of venturing into food,” she said, noting that Tiny Tango just came about by chance. She just originally curated one box for a casual get-together with friends when restrictions have somehow been lifted.

But, as it turned out, it was a promising business idea that would help cushion the blow on Tiny Tavern.

“Each time we would meet up, they would request for it (charcuterie boxes),” she said. “We all had very good feedback.”

Better days

Several stakeholders have high hopes for 2022.

Speaking before foreign business chambers on Nov. 26, Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Karl Chua said the operations of key economic sectors like retail and fast food are starting to inch toward pre-pandemic levels.

"All of these show that with further easing of the restrictions and opening of the economy, we are likely to recover to our pre-pandemic nominal GDP level by early 2022," Chua said.

Chua on Oct. 28 had forecast that the country would gain P3.6 billion more and generate 16,000 jobs weekly, if Metro Manila would remain under Alert Level 2, which is the second lowest classification.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Benjamin Diokno, meanwhile, on Dec. 10 said the country’s economic growth this year could beat the government’s downgraded target, with fourth-quarter gross domestic product likely to expand by at least 7%.

“I think it will be more likely that it will be more than 5% this year,” BusinessWorld quoted Diokno as saying. “Because right now, the year to date is 4.9%, so it’s stands to reason that the fourth quarter will be at least around 7%.”

Economic managers lowered its GDP target to 4 to 5% in August, from 6 to 7% previously, after strict lockdowns went back in a bid to curb the COVID-19 surge driven by the Delta variant.

The country's record peak in infections was in September, when daily cases rose to as high as 26,000 a day.

Since COVID-19 cases have declined in the weeks that followed, the government eased mobility restrictions and allowed more businesses to reopen, so much so that the country will stay under Alert Level 2 for the rest of 2021, and in a recent Malacañang announcement, until Jan. 15, 2022.

Under the second lowest alert level in the five-tier system, several establishments are allowed at half capacity indoors for fully vaccinated adults and even unvaccinated minors. Outdoor settings may accept anybody at 70% capacity.

Not out of the woods just yet

Guido David of the OCTA Research Group has been underscoring that we're "not out of the woods" just yet.

'[W]e want to state that as a fact," David said. "We may think we are, but we can't say for sure."

David's statement has been resounding more than ever, especially that the Department of Health (DOH) on Dec. 30 has reported 1,623 COVID-19 cases in a single day, the first time in over a month that new infections went over 1,000 cases.

The country's last highest daily tally was on Nov. 21, which saw 2,227 new cases.

The DOH said the country's positivity rate, or the number of COVID-19 test results that turned out positive, also stood at 6.6%, the highest positivity rate since last Oct. 31's 6.75%.

Prior to that, the agency had flagged the recent uptick in Metro Manila’s COVID-19 cases and virus positivity rate in the past week, though noted that "it's not significant enough yet."

[A]t this time, we feel like the risk has decreased significantly and we can take some risks...

"But it is an alarm," DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said. "[I]t is a warning for us that cases might start to increase so we need to help each other out."

The country has also logged its fourth case of the Omicron variant. The World Health Organization said Omicron has a "growth advantage" over the already infectious Delta variant, as it also "suggests a reduction" in vaccine efficacy, based on current limited evidence.

Ultimately, David said we have to confront the possibility that COVID-19 and its unpredictability will always be a part of our lives. But that, he noted, doesn't mean that we won't move on to the next phase.

Probably just the same as how we welcome each day. Ready.

Asked how Tiny Tavern will deal with 2022, Alignay took note of the "many valuable lessons" from this "painful" year, reminding everybody to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and keep observing health protocols.

For Tanos, meanwhile, it's "just the same as how we welcome each day," keeping in mind how they've been conducting themselves during Tiny Tavern's business hours in the middle of the pandemic.