Frank Papini

The San Fernando Mall and most of the City of San Fernando is a ghost town these days, the sidewalks empty of people and the shops closed amid the “Shelter-at-Home” orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Many of those stores offer dresses, decorations and all sorts of party accessories for quinceañeras and weddings. But those events have been postponed or canceled, leaving the business owners and people who work in this industry scrambling to survive.

“This is the season for [his] business, the best time of the year. This impacts us big time,” laments Jaime Lopez, owner of Louis Formal Wear along Maclay Avenue which, he said, has never experienced a similar situation in over 35 years.

Lopez explains that business typically slows down in the winter and starts picking up in March, when families and couples start planning their events for the summer and the rest of the year. But they were forced to shut their doors in March.

“We had proms, weddings, quinceaneras, everything canceled,” said Lopez, who estimates his monthly losses at between $20,000-$30,000.

Lopez, who supplies tuxedos for most of the other stores along the San Fernando Mall, worries that many of those shops may not re-open if the closures continue much longer.

“Even if they open up in a month, not all of them are going to survive,” says the business owner, who is making do by using his savings. “I think some stores will not open again.”

His hope is that the lockdown orders are lifted by this summer. While Lopez doesn’t expect massive events to be held — based on the authorities’ announcements that things won’t be entirely back to normal — he does think some parties, mostly backyard events with fewer attendees, will go on.

This won’t shore up those businesses entirely, but it will help.

“There’s going to be very little (business). It’s going to be a tough year,” Lopez said. “I think it will start picking up by maybe next year or the end of the year.”

No More Photos

Store owners are not the only ones suffering amid the party cancellations.

Frank Papini, a photographer, has also run out of income.

“It’s terrible. All events have been canceled,” said Papini, an Arleta resident who has made a living as a professional taking photos of those events for decades.

Unlike others who have other jobs Monday through Friday and take photos on weekends to supplement their income, Papini is dedicated full-time to photography. When he’s not doing events on his own, he works for other studios or stores that sell dresses and party implements.

“I’ve had my events canceled for the next three months,” says the 53-year-old who has two children, ages 14 and 18, living at his home.

The losses amount up to $12,000.

Papini says he’s also using his savings as the crisis goes on, which he hopes won’t last long. He adds that in 30 years as a photographer, he has never been through anything similar to this.

“After 9/11 many events were canceled, especially many weddings because they can be postponed,” he said. “At that time I was working for the Jewish community; I did many bar mitzvahs (a ceremony when a boy reaches age 13) and those only have that window of time and it wasn’t so bad.

“Nothing compares to this. I didn’t expect it”

He does expect to receive a stimulus check from the government.

“It’s going to help a little bit. It’s not like working, but it helps me for food,” Papini said. “The good thing is to have some savings, to prepare for things like this. So far I haven’t applied for unemployment.”

If things don’t improve in a few months, Papini is unsure what he will do.

“If you want a job, where do you get a job right now?” he asks.

And photography is all he knows how to do.

Papini is just hoping for a window of normalcy to open, no matter how small.

“I think I can survive as long as they open churches, halls,” he said.

From Dresses to Face Masks

Teresa Gonzalez, owner of Bridal City, also spent a week at home after being forced to close her shop along the San Fernando Mall.

But the wedding dress designer is currently putting her sewing skills to good use, and helping bring in some income, by turning the fabric in her shop into face masks made with 100% cotton, which she says offer the best protection.

The idea came when her daughter — who works at a hospital —wanted to help her colleagues by donating the face masks and asked her mom for help. She made 50 of them and donated them, and then showed them on her Instagram account.

“People liked them,” she said and the orders started coming in.

“I like it because I’m helping and I’m helping myself as well,” Gonzalez said. “The masks cover the mouth properly and they allow people to speak without problems.”

She said she made several prototypes before landing on the best design. But she also faced some issues in securing the material for making the masks because the stores in downtown Los Angeles where she buys the material are also closed. And the fabric is in short supply, as companies across the country race to make face masks amid the pandemic.

“People are looking for 100% cotton fabric because those are the ones that really protect,” Gonzalez explained.

The sale of face masks does not entirely replace the income she would receive from supplying dresses to weddings, proms and other parties — but it does help.

Gonzales is hopeful those parties will return soon, but knows even if some restrictions are lifted, the change won’t be automatic.

“People are going to be a little mistrustful (of coming into contact with large groups of people) and even visiting stores, and we are also going to be a little worried,” she admits.

For now, Gonzalez is waiting for some level of normalcy that would allow her to continue making a living and for her clients to have the events they have saved for, and usually planned for months and even years.

“I’m a positive person,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to reconnect again.”