FilAm businesses reopen amid uncertainty

Glenda Villajuan, at right, and on the floor with her students at CitiTots Early Childhood Center in Brooklyn.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Glenda Villajuan welcomed children back to her CitiTots day care in Brooklyn on June 8 as New York City began Phase 1 of its planned return to normalcy. In New Jersey, Amable Yalong announced his men’s wear shop in downtown Englewood will reopen on June 15, pledging to assure the safety and protection of all his customers.

Glenda and Amable are two Filipino American business owners whose companies have been hammered financially by the deadly wave of the Coronavirus which has swept the country. They are also among the hard-headed optimists who couldn’t wait to serve their customers again, and hopefully attract new business. Said Amable, who through the last three months has managed to remain hopeful and retained his good humor. “You’re going to have to blind me and chop my arms and legs off for me to quit.”

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“We have been ready to reopen before we even closed!” cried Glenda, who founded CitiTots Early Childhood Center, Inc. in 2012 and serves as its director. The center has two locations in Brooklyn: One on Marcy Avenue which served 18 students, the other on Lafayette Avenue which had 16 children. The Lafayette school opened weeks earlier. As explained by Glenda, it is a Group Family Day Care considered an “essential” business and was not mandated to close. The Marcy location, which is a center-based program, is covered by a different regulatory agency.

CitiTots’s Lafayette Avenue location.

In preparation for the reopening, Glenda — who holds a Master of Science degree in Early Childhood Education — absorbed as much information as she could about the Coronavirus and what steps to take to keep children safe from any infection.

“I attended webinars, talked to everyone I can learn from, scoured the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Department of Health Day Care website, and stayed in touched with my day care licensors and public health consultants,” she told The FilAm. “I watched the daily briefings from the Governor, the Mayor, and any briefings or talk shows where Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and Dr. (Deborah) Birx were on. I was looking for some words of hope, reassurance, and solace in this turbulent time.”

Prior to the pandemic, there were 15 staff members supervising about 35 students in both locations. The schools are now down to eight staffers. “The pandemic has put us in a very vulnerable position financially,” she said.

She did apply for a loan to help tide over the business in the succeeding months. At the same time, she appealed to parents to continue paying their tuition, and offered a credit-back once the schools are up and running again. Some clients came through for which Glenda was grateful.

A Chase Bank loan was approved. Another application ran into some bureaucratic hassles but was eventually processed by a second bank. Even then, she said, the amount granted was “barely enough to keep the business afloat for the whole eight weeks.”

Now that the city is digging out of the chaos of the disease, returning students will see some changes when they return to Cititots: Children’s temperature will be taken at the door. Parents will have to drop off their kids outside the building. Staff must have their temperature taken, wear masks, and change from their travel clothes to work clothing. Furniture was configured to encourage social distancing and select toys will be made available to the kids; those that are difficult to disinfect will be put away.

Amable Yalong owns the upscale tailoring boutique Y2 Collection in Englewood, N.J.

Amable Yalong’s Y2 Collection
The Y2 Collection Boutique was in the midst of a long-planned expansion when COVID-19 exploded in early March and swiftly became a public health emergency. It descended with lethal effect on New Jersey on March 2. Around that time, Amable was preparing to roll out a women’s wear line as well as a Barong collection in addition to his luxury men’s wear brand. The Y2 Collection is noted for its custom-made suits available in striking colors. Unfortunately, the storefront on Palisade Ave. in downtown Englewood was forced into closure by the pandemic.

“It’s been depressing for me personally to see it all just sink in a blink of an eye,” he told The FilAm. “March 2020 was supposed to be the launch of my women’s wear and my second line. No date as of yet when I can launch.”

Amable did not receive any financial aid from any government-backed stimulus program although he put in a couple of applications for a small business loan. “I was told the funds ran out.” He did not think he could stay in business because the “budget kept depleting and I really don’t have any other sources to get funds to keep the boutique open.” He was seriously looking at the option of moving his business online.

Amable’s leather merchandise.

This week, however, as if the sun’s beams finally pierced through an overcast sky, Amable announced on Facebook that Y2 Collection is reopening on June 15. His loan application had finally gone through. The catch though is that the funds were not enough, but he vowed “to fight to see if I can make it work. Government help is nothing for a small business like mine. I’ll have to get my own version of help.”

He is not ready to let go of the Y2 Collection just yet. Before COVID, business was “great and it was growing,” he said of his three-year-old enterprise. Rent at $7K a month may seem substantial but professionals and celebrity clients from the entertainment and sports world kept his store humming well into the night for fittings. Bumper sales came from weddings.

He is excited to reopen the boutique “with mask and gloves,” but at the same time apprehensive about the readiness of consumers especially with millions on the unemployment line.

“It’s been tough but I’m going to keep fighting,” he said.

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© The FilAm 2020

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