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East County Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020 2 days ago

Lakewood Ranch-area employees out of service

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It's "day-by-day" for employees affected by COVID-19 closures in East County.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

During peak season in Lakewood Ranch, Lendi Cochran could make $5,000 per month as a bartender at Naughty Monk Brewery.

Now her bartending income is down to zero.

Naughty Monk had to send home its bartenders after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that all bars close for 30 days starting March 17 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. 

“I don’t have any benefits,” Cochran said. “I live day by day with income. It’s not paycheck to paycheck; it’s day by day. If I’m not making money today, I’m not paying my bills next month.”

Employees of businesses, bars and restaurants in the Lakewood Ranch area are trying to find ways to support themselves and their families after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 threat.

Cochran helped the brewery prepare to-go orders March 18. But she only made $6 in tips.

“That was it,” she said. “I just knew that was the end of it.”

After that, she’s been at home trying to figure out how to pay bills and support her daughters, Paige and Chloe.

Her first thought was to apply for jobs at restaurants, but the option didn’t last because DeSantis called for restaurants to be at 50% capacity and then ordered them to close and only offer to-go orders as of March 20.

“Right now, I am at a complete loss of what I’m going to do,” she said.

Beth Peace shares the feeling.

She has lost her job as a server at Peach’s Restaurant as long as the coronavirus threat lasts.

Usually a picture of optimism who greets her customers with “Happy day!” she is experiencing something new.

When Peace was told the restaurant needed to close, she cried. For her, serving customers at Peach’s the past 16 years has meant more than handing out coffee.

“My heart is broken,” Peace said. “I feel like my [work] family is all missing.”

At 57, Peace has never been unemployed and has struggled to submit the paperwork for unemployment because she knows thousands are without jobs. 

Her husband, Don, works in the banking industry and won’t lose his job, so she and their daughter, Cassidy, have been moved to his insurance to ensure both are covered.

“We have to be wise with our spending,” she said. “It’s like a bad dream. I keep thinking: ‘What time do I have to go to work tomorrow? Oh, you’re not going to work tomorrow. What are you going to do instead? Clean the closet?’ It’s just shocking.”

While Peace has yet to file for unemployment, Cochran has applied for both unemployment and for assistance under the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. Cochran also has  researched grants and financial assistance opportunities.

For now, she is worried about buying this week’s groceries.

“I can’t even go purchase extra supplies for my kids being at home every single day now,” she said. “I just feel as if I have nothing, and I can’t go out of my way to get extra when I don’t know when I’m going to get paid again.”

As much as Cochran would like to move to a different career, she predicts she’ll return to the service industry because it’ll be the quickest way for her to catch up financially.

Other area employees share similar problems, including Taylor Montoya, a creative director at Evan Alexander Salon and Spa, who has no idea what she’s going to do now that the salon is closed until at least April 1.

Montoya said it was a unanimous decision among everyone at the salon to close for the health and safety of its clients and those working there. 

Taylor Montoya, a creative director at Evan Alexander Salon and Spa, makes the most of her last day at the salon before it closed due to the coronavirus. "I have no idea what I'm going to do," she says.

“We’re all self-employed here, so we won’t be getting paid,” she said. 

Montoya, who lives in Sarasota, plans to self-quarantine because she can’t go to work and is pregnant, which puts her at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s crazy how fast everything impacted everybody,” she said. “We’ll be calling a lot of people to give us loans, and hopefully, car payments can get pushed back a little bit.”

Depending on the week, Montoya could earn between $500 and $1,000. Without that source of income, she “has no idea” how she’ll pay bills.

Some people are depending more on their second job to support them.

After being let go from CycleBar when the fitness facility closed March 16, Lakewood Ranch’s Kourtney Kalahar has depended on her second job for her income.

Besides being an instructor, Kalahar works from home for Arbonne International, a global beauty, health and wellness company.

“I’m going to make a good income right now but obviously not enough to be able to have fun,” Kalahar said. “I’m going to have just enough to pay my bills.”

Although she’s down to one job, Kalahar is keeping a positive mindset.

Kalahar hopes the government does something to help people who have lost their jobs, such as cancel late fees on bills.

“It’s not just a small percentage of people that are dealing with this,” she said. “It’s on such a large scale. Something has to be done because if not, everyone is going to be in the same boat.”

Some businesses are working with their employees to ensure as many people can work as possible but maybe fewer hours.

Michelle Lieman, a server at The Granary, checks out a customer. Lieman says customers have been leaving larger tips to support the servers.

At The Granary in Lakewood Ranch, Michelle Lieman was one of two servers working March 20. Karen Ronney, the owner of the restaurant, had to reduce the number of staff from five servers to two because of the lack of customers.

Nine servers are rotating schedules to help one another sustain some form of income. Some servers have volunteered not to work, so others with families, like Lieman, can work more hours.

“It is like a family, which is really nice,” Lieman said. “You feel a sense of community.”

Although business is slow, Lieman said about 50% of customers are increasing their tips to help support the servers and The Granary.

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