Orange County businesses struggle as South Coast Plaza shuts down; coronavirus cases hit 22

Shoppers wear masks as they walk through South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Times Community News)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Orange County has risen to 22 as ongoing fears over the disease’s spread shuttered one of the nation’s busiest malls and continued to hammer local businesses.

The county’s total as of Monday— up five from the day before — includes four cases believed to have been spread through the community, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Eight of the county’s COVID-19 patients are women, and the rest are men, health officials say. Eleven are between the ages of 18 and 49; seven are from 50 to 64 years old and four are at least 65.


So far, 300 people have been tested in the county, officials said. No deaths have been reported.

Fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak have hit the local business community hard in recent days, particularly as Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected and health officials have called for stringent social distancing, for restaurants to no longer allow dine-in customers and for the closure of communal venues like gyms, health clubs and movie theaters.

Among those now-shuttered spaces is South Coast Plaza. The renowned Costa Mesa shopping center closed Monday night and will remain so for two weeks after a store employee tested positive for the virus on Sunday night.

“Our understanding that closures of public gathering places in Orange County are important for a chance to meaningfully stem this pandemic is the reason we took this action,” mall spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing said in a statement. “Although [the employee testing positive] is not the reason for the center’s closure, it reinforced the need for us to take action.”

Other local businesses have started to feel the sting, too.

As social distancing deepens in an effort to stem the worldwide outbreak of the virus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, many local restaurants and retail stores are seeing precipitous drops in business.

March 17, 2020

Jim Walker, who owns the Bungalow restaurant in Corona del Mar, said business was fine until last Monday. Then it tanked by more than half, and he’s now operating at a loss amid a coronavirus-driven bust.

His lunch customers are working from home. His dinner crowd trends older, and while his Long Beach establishment, Domenico’s Pizza, is able to offer takeout, the Bungalow’s upscale American fare doesn’t lend itself to that.


“People typically don’t order a filet mignon to go,” he said.

To cover his losses, he will need to make an additional $200,000 in revenue after business returns to normal, he said Monday. He’s not sure that will be possible. Or when things will return to normal.

Mario Marovic — who owns 11 restaurants around Orange County, including six in Newport Beach — said he’s consulted with county health officials, city officials and his attorneys and is staying open, with reduced capacity.

“We’re on the front lines,” he said Monday.

Tanya Low, who owns CJ Rose Fashion Boutique in Laguna Beach, said Monday afternoon that she had no customers since opening earlier in the day.

“My husband and I were talking yesterday. We’re not sure we’ll make it through this,” Low said.

“Coming into March, where we’re supposed to be able to cover the bills that we saved up for, that’s just not going to happen,” Low added. “I think there’s so many small businesses that don’t make it. I hope we’re not one of them.”