Business blues 5 months after wine country fires

Almost 5 months after the devastating wine country fires, businesses near the burn areas are having varying degrees of difficulty dealing with fewer people in the area. 

Lunch and dinner crowds at Santa Rosa's EL Brinquito Restaurant are not what they used to be.

"We used to have customers, you know that lived off of Coffey Park, those houses, trailer parks right across from us And they would come and have dinner. Now, they're no longer there," said Favian Iniguez, founder of El Brinquito Restaurant.]

That's also true at Piner Plaza right next to Coffey Park where several small food shops, such as the Pizza Guys, are hurting.

"Four or five hundred houses gone within a half mile of my business and since my business depends on delivery, so, a thousand people are out of this area," said Hoomen Horbakht. manager of The Pizza Guys.

Neighborhood businesses need walk-in customers, but they survive and thrive on established, local, long-term clientele. For El Brinquito Restaurant, that's "about sixty to sixty-five percent," according to Iniguez.

Now that most of the heavy clean up is over in Santa Rosa's Coffey Park, local nearby businesses find themselves in their third financial drought. Drought number one: the fires chased the residents away. Two: waiting weeks for cleanup crews to come and are now leaving. Three: the waiting for weeks or months for large numbers of contractors and reconstruction crews to come.

"Hopefully after they're coming into the area, we're gonna have a better business," said Horbacht. "Right across we have some people working in the construction and they've been coming in for lunch so it has, in that way helped us," said Mr. Iniguez.

The Chamber of Commerce sees a double whammy. First: the loss of hotels.

"Twenty-one percent of our inventory in Santa Rosa was reduced overnight," said Chris Vomvolakis of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Second: the loss of the dependable supply of hotels guests that often patronize local small businesses.

"We hear from that every day and that's why, again, getting the message out that we are open for business.  It's a whole concentric circle and it just stretches outward," said Mr. Vomvolakis.

He says new hotels will open in 2019. But for now it's patience as well as the coming of reconstruction crews and, just as importantly, hope for day trippers and tourists that will decide the fate of many businesses here.