Opinions

This is how mass unemployment looks on the ground

One block, at least 140 jobs lost.

Numbers indicate jobs known to

have been put on hold or eliminated

Closed storefronts

Reduced work hours

Detail

ALBEMARLE ST. NW

D.C.

14

6

3

CONNECTICUT AVENUE NW, 4400 BLOCK

30

8

RESIDENTIAL

14

50

UNIVERSITY

RESIDENTIAL

15

WINDOM PLACE NW

Numbers indicate jobs known to have

been put on hold or eliminated

Closed storefronts

Reduced work hours

Detail

ALBEMARLE ST. NW

D.C.

14

6

3

30

8

RESIDENTIAL

14

50

UNIVERSITY

RESIDENTIAL

15

WINDOM PLACE NW

Numbers indicate jobs known to have

been put on hold or eliminated

Detail

Closed storefronts

Reduced work hours

D.C.

RESIDENTIAL

RESIDENTIAL

6

30

50

ALBEMARLE ST. NW

CONNECTICUT AVENUE NW, 4400 BLOCK

WINDOM PLACE NW

14

15

14

8

UNIVERSITY

N

3

There is nothing remarkable about the businesses that operated in this one-block stretch of Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington before the covid-19 outbreak. And that is what makes the block a good example of the pain the pandemic is inflicting on retail businesses and workers around the country.

About half of the storefronts in this block are small businesses: a barber shop, a nail salon, a few restaurants, a school, a gourmet market. In this one block alone, at least 140 people have been laid off or told to stay at home in recent weeks. But the total number of people affected is certainly higher, because several of the larger establishments and shuttered outlets did not respond to requests for information.

This dry cleaner is now open for three hours a day. Nobody was fired in this pizzeria, right, but employee hours were reduced.

At least six people at this nail salon are at home without pay. The staff at this Thai restaurant, right, now works on alternate days, with pay reduced proportionally.

This dry cleaner is now open for three hours a day. Nobody was fired in this pizzeria, right, but employee hours were reduced.

At least six people at this nail salon are at home without pay. The staff at this Thai restaurant, right, now works on alternate days, with pay reduced proportionally.

Nobody was fired in this pizzeria, but employee hours were reduced.

The staff at this Thai restaurant now works on alternate days, with pay reduced proportionally.

This barber

shop is

closed.

This dry cleaner now opens for three hours a day.

At least six people at this nail salon are at home without pay.

Nobody was fired in this pizzeria, but employee hours were reduced.

In this Thai restaurant, the staff now works on alternate days, with pay reduced proportionally.

This dry cleaner now opens for three hours a day.

At least six people at this nail salon are at home without pay.

This barber

shop is closed.

Among most of the stores that remain open, workers have had their hours and pay cut, often in half. And many owners are unsure of how much longer they can remain open.

Employees at this car wash are working on alternate days, resulting in a pay cut. At the dry cleaner, right, also fewer hours and less pay.

Sales dropped at this Burger King by about 40 percent. The bakery, right, reduced staff by a third, expanded takeout and started offering grocery items.

Employees at this car wash are working on alternate days, resulting in a pay cut. At the dry cleaner, right, also fewer hours and less pay.

Sales dropped at this Burger King by about 40 percent. The bakery, right, reduced staff by a third, expanded takeout and started offering grocery items.

This dry cleaner could have up to 40 people at work during peak hours. Now, it has no more than 10.

Employees at this car wash are working on alternate days, resulting in a pay cut.

Sales dropped here by about 40 percent, and employee work hours were reduced.

This bakery reduced staff by a third, expanded takeout and started offering grocery items.

This dry cleaner could have up to 40 people at work during peak hours. Now, it has no more than 10.

Employees at this car wash are working on alternate days, resulting in a pay cut.

This bakery reduced staff by a third, expanded takeout and started offering grocery items.

Sales dropped here by about 40 percent, and employee work hours were reduced.

At Tesoro, one of the block’s three Italian restaurants, all the employees have been laid off. Only the three owners, who bought the restaurant last summer, are still working. The restaurant only opened in November.

Eight people at Tesoro restaurant have been laid off. Work hours for employees at the hotel, right, were reduced, affecting pay, according to one of the staffers.

Eight people at Tesoro restaurant have been laid off. Work hours for employees at the hotel, right, were reduced, affecting pay, according to one of the staffers.

Eight people at Tesoro restaurant have been laid off.

Work hours for employees at this hotel were reduced, affecting pay, according to one of the staffers.

After a slow winter, Tesoro had its best day on March 6, when 105 people came in for dinner. Days later, dining in was banned in the District. Now the three partners do everything, from chopping vegetables to delivering orders. On their best day in the two weeks after the dine-in ban, the trio had 12 takeout orders. On their worst day, they had one. “It’s like heaven and hell,” said Enrico De Rosa, one of the owners.

Angela De Rosa and David Lobo, partners at Tesoro.
Cutlery sets are still placed at Tesoro's tables daily. “It’s already demoralizing to see the empty restaurant,” said Enrico De Rosa, one of the owners.
LEFT: Angela De Rosa and David Lobo, partners at Tesoro. RIGHT: Cutlery sets are still placed at Tesoro's tables daily. “It’s already demoralizing to see the empty restaurant,” said Enrico De Rosa, one of the owners.

Across the street, at Uptown Market, there’s a similarly dire situation. The coffee shop, bar and market opened in October. The business employed 35 people and offered gourmet items such as jamón serrano, grass-fed beef and caviar. Now, the café and bar are closed, 30 people have been laid off, and the store is adding more affordable grocery items to its stock.

“This generation has completely changed in the last two weeks,” said Adam Leichtner, a partner in the market. He thinks that customers will avoid social gatherings for the foreseeable future. “This will change things 10 years from now.”

Thirty employees were laid off at Uptown Market because of the pandemic. The store has shifted focus to include more grocery items.

Farther down the block, at another Italian restaurant, Sfoglina Van Ness, the picture is bleaker: Fifty people were cut from the payroll, and only two remain, both doing takeout. The restaurant launched a relief fund for the furloughed employees. It is also selling gift cards with proceeds going partially to former employees.

The Italian restaurant Sfoglina Van Ness cut 50 employees. Sfoglina is part of a group of eight restaurants where, in total, 550 people have been furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the block’s Thai restaurant, work hours were significantly reduced. Shifts were reorganized to ensure that everyone would still have some income. Servers are now assigned to pack takeaway food. Across the street, at a car wash, a similar situation, with employees working on alternate days. But there, as of last week, three part-time workers had been let go. At a bakery, a third of the staff was let go, according to the owner. Several managers in the block said business had dropped by about 70 percent.

Paid hours were reduced in this branch of Potbelly. The gym, right, is closed. Its regular class schedule lists more than 25 instructors.

Viet Chopsticks was scheduled to open in March and would employ 15 full-time workers. Wells Fargo, right, has been closed for days.

Paid hours were reduced in this branch of Potbelly. The gym, right, is closed. Its regular class schedule lists more than 25 instructors.

Viet Chopsticks was scheduled to open in March and would employ 15 full-time workers. Wells Fargo, right, has been closed for days.

Store hours have been reduced.

Closed

The gym is closed. Its regular class schedule lists more than 25 instructors.

Viet Chopsticks was scheduled to open in March and would employ 15 full-time workers.

Store hours have been reduced.

Closed

The gym is closed. Its regular class schedule lists more than 25 instructors.

Viet Chopsticks was scheduled to open in March and would employ 15 full-time workers.

At the block’s newest addition, a Vietnamese restaurant, another heartbreak. The restaurant was expected to open in March after an extensive renovation, generating 15 full-time and 10 part-time jobs. But the doors remain closed. “Hope you will have a good story of us recovering one day soon,” Ken Ha Dinh, the owner, wrote in a text message.

The dining area of Viet Chopsticks, expected to open in March, remains empty. (Viet Chopsticks)

A similar pattern of closures, pay cuts, worry and struggle to adapt to a constantly shifting environment is now visible here, shop after shop, likely repeated block after block, and increasingly in city after city. Still, every person I spoke to seemed to know about someone else who was having an even harder time. Like Tesoro’s Enrico De Rosa, whose life savings are entirely invested in his restaurant, but who felt sorry for a neighbor who had to close and fire 14 people.

As De Rosa saw it, at least, he is still able to open. His attitude is a timely lesson of compassion and appreciation for those of us who have the privilege of being able to work from home. While there are limits to what each of us can do, at least we are still able to order takeout.

The Opinions section is looking for stories of how the coronavirus has affected people of all walks of life. Write to us.

Note: The numbers and headline of this column were updated to reflect additional jobs lost. Sources: Interviews with business owners and employees; Van Ness Main Street. Photographs and composite images of facades by Sergio Peçanha/The Washington Post, unless otherwise noted.

More from Opinions:

Bill Gates: Here’s how to make up for lost time on covid-19

Karen Tumulty: Nancy Pelosi’s unpredictable rise

Robert J. Samuelson: All our choices are bad — but some are worse

Michele L. Norris: My children are now watching me. All day. Every day.

Hugh Hewitt: We need pandemic bonds

Sign up to receive Opinions columns like these in your inbox six days a week

We noticed you’re blocking ads!

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker. Or purchase a subscription for unlimited access to real news you can count on.
Unblock ads
Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us