Editor’s Note: This story is part of the annual review Mosaic journalism workshop for Bay Area high school students, a two-week crash course in journalism. Students in the program report and photograph true stories under the guidance of professional journalists.
As a mother and daughter walk into a small store at the end of Autumn Street, the sound of printing machines in the old garage echoes loudly from the back.
Gloria Sermeño, owner of R&A Embroidery and Custom Prints, enthusiastically looks after the two customers, helping the little girl try on polo shirts as part of her uniform as she gets ready for back to school.
This is what a typical working day looks like for Sermeño.
While Sermeño mainly creates printed uniforms for schools and students, she also works with small businesses to make brand name clothes and other clients who just want a special design on a t-shirt, sweater or bag. .
It was in the fall of 2019 that she turned her hobby of making custom printed school uniforms for her son into a thriving business, with clients from around San Jose.
Sermeño’s business quickly provided a new source of income that helped support his family.
However, his work routine of serving customers in his store suddenly came to a halt when COVID-19 began to spread rapidly in Santa Clara County in March 2020. Sermeño feared the virus would have a serious effect. about his business.
“You saw the news then and you could imagine it was going to happen,” she said. “I have to pay for the machines, I have a lot of money invested here, I put everything and more” into the business, she said.
She feared taking care of her family and her ability to meet rent and other costs of running her business, and her fears were well founded.
As the coronavirus raged, pushing through communities and prompting health officials to impose closures, Sermeño watched helplessly as his customers dwindle. She was only able to pick up small orders here and there, and she had no choice but to close.
As Sermeño faced concerns about his closed business, tragedy struck again in September 2020, when his father died from COVID-19.
“When it happens in your family, it’s worse,” she said.
Luckily, Sermeño’s husband Ernesto, who owns the auto mechanic shop right next to his shop, has been able to make ends meet and keep his family financially stable over the past year and a half.
Despite the temporary closure of his business and his difficult loss, the lockdown allowed Sermeño, like many others, to spend more time with his family. With her two sons still at home, she began to cherish the time she spent with them.
Sermeño said the experience of the pandemic reminded him to devote more time to his family, rather than committing to his business every day.
“I think that’s something COVID has taught us – that we have to put some people ahead of our business,” she said.
Sermeño’s story reflects the experiences of other small business owners in San José, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many aspects of daily life. However, with these changes, Sermeño had glimmers of positivity as she had the opportunity to be with her family every day.
Even though the pandemic has started to recede and public spaces have opened up, only about two customers visit Sermeño’s store daily to shop for the upcoming school year, although additional orders through its online store have been made. helped increase sales.
She keeps an optimistic view of the future and hopes to grow her business as she slowly wins back customers every day.
Maya Barrientos is a rising elder at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.