Face-to-face classes offer little optimism to bearish businesses in LB
Business

Face-to-face classes offer little optimism to bearish businesses in LB

Jan 31, 2022, 5:13 AM
Kimmy Baraoidan

Kimmy Baraoidan

Writer

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—The clinking of sub-zero bottles of beers as their holders raise them up and say “Cheers,” heads bobbing to the beat of the rock and alternative tunes emanating from the small but powerful speakers by the bar, laughter echoing throughout the pub where college kids, many of those attending the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), spend their week nights to unwind.

That was the typical scene at Jacques’ up until early 2020 before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic forced schools and universities to close indefinitely and sent many students back to their respective hometowns.

Nowadays, the pub, which is only roughly 400 meters from the UPLB main gate, is almost devoid of college patrons. And instead of operating nights, they now open as early as 8:00 a.m., offering samgyeopsal meals for limited al-fresco dining or delivery.

Physical classes

UPLB is set to hold limited face-to-face classes this coming February 7. According to Prof. Mark Lester Chico, Director of UPLB’s Office of Public Relations, face-to-face classes will push through for 98 students who are taking up agriculture, engineering, forestry, and veterinary medicine.

The news makes 34-year-old Adonis Corales, one of the owners of Jacques’, look forward to better days. “Now that there will be face-to-face classes, we hope we could operate again as a bar,” he said.

However, some local business owners are not celebrating just yet. Vicente Leon Cadiz, 42, owner of Chubby Habbi’s Mediterranean Grill, said the limited face-to-face classes may offer a slight increase in sales by 5 to 10 percent, but he’s not that optimistic.

“(The face-to-face classes will have) no impact at all, since limited students are permitted. No chance for boarding houses and other businesses to recover,” said 55-year-old Rommel Caranto, owner of Andrecito’s boarding house and charter president of the Los Baños Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Hanging by a thread

Los Baños, with a population of 115,353 according to the 2020 census, is home to more than 10,000 UPLB students and over 30 public and private educational institutions.

Businesses located along the one-kilometer stretch of Lopez Avenue, which starts outside the UPLB main gate and ends at the town junction, thrive on student clientele.

Dormitories, boarding houses, and apartments in nearby Demarses Subdivision, Sta. Fe Subdivision, and Umali Subdivision are also being kept alive by the student population.

These areas are like ghost towns during school breaks and Holy Week—it’s been an extended Holy Week since the lockdown of 2020.

Corales said that during the first few months of the 2020 lockdown, they at Jacques’ tried delivering silog meals to students stranded on and off campus.

But the pub got another blow when UPLB and various volunteer organizations started shuttling students back to their respective provinces.

“We lost our silog customers. Our operations could not sustain it. No one was ordering silog meals anymore, so we had to think of another way to continue paying our staff. At that point, two of our staff had already quit.”
“We were barely making it at Chubby Habbi’s,” Cadiz said. “Entablado was worse because the takeout/delivery option does not work for us since people come to us to dine in and enjoy our ambience,” he added, referring to the now-defunct coffee shop that he co-owned with singer/songwriter Vincent Ferdinand Dancel, a.k.a. Ebe Dancel. “Eventually we had to cease operations permanently,” said Cadiz.

Lodging businesses were also hit hard. “There’s a massive effect of the pandemic/lockdown. My boarding house and all boarding houses in Los Baños are closed,” said Caranto. “In general, (the) contract is one year. And since most contracts between lessor and lessee expired in 2020, (the) problem (is) compounded by non-renewal since there’s uncertainty of face to face (classes),” he added.

Adapt or perish

Local businesses either shifted or made some tweaks in order to stay open despite a significant reduction in clientele. Caranto diversified into wholesale selling of fresh whole chicken to make up for the closure of his boarding house.

“Generally, most businesses outside the campus have either closed or went into the talipapa business,” he added.

For Cadiz, delivery services help keep his restaurants open. “For a time, we established our own delivery service, but we had problems with personnel, so we could only reach limited areas”.

He added they had to rely mostly on third-party delivery services.

Since the 2020 lockdown, several local delivery services have sprouted in the town, catering mostly to food deliveries, and at least one delivery service also offers grocery shopping and bills payments.

Corales and his partners thought of riding the samgyeopsal wave. They offered delivery of samgyeopsal sets with grills that they lend customers.

“I think we were the first in LB that time. It became a hit initially,” he said.

When restrictions were eased and al-fresco dining was now allowed, customers could now enjoy samgyeopsal at the pub’s rooftop.

“It’s just funny that our vision of a college bar before and the rooftop to be used for gigs had now become a samgyeopsal place because of the pandemic,” he said.

Glimmer of hope

Caranto lamented the lack of support from the LGU to local businesses that folded up, but he said the Los Baños Chamber of Commerce and Industry is now coordinating with the LGU regarding business permit renewal fees and waiver of penalties for closed businesses who would renew this year.

“We’ve advised our members and the business sector to file temporary closure with the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), in effect, temporary reprieve or non-payment of business tax to the national government,” Caranto added.

This could be one way to wait out the pandemic if a business really couldn’t afford to continue operations.

For those who still managed to stay afloat until now, there might be better days ahead, with higher education institutions like UPLB slowly resuming face-to-face classes.

“We’re hopeful that there will be a new normal since there are vaccines already and things are going back to normal somehow. It’s sad that not all businesses survived the pandemic. We’re lucky that somehow there will still be a bar that students can return to if classes go back to normal,” Corales said.

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