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Morro Bay's business community weathers pandemic impacts thanks to chamber efforts and regional tourists 

Jeremy Tardiff wanted to be his own boss, so he combined his knowledge of coffee and his love for Morro Bay to open his own coffee house on the Embarcadero in March 2020.

click to enlarge COFFEE WITH A VIEW Jeremey Tardiff took a leap of faith and opened his coffee house on the Morro Bay Embarcadero in March 2020 with a view of the ocean and Morro Rock. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • Photo By Karen Garcia
  • COFFEE WITH A VIEW Jeremey Tardiff took a leap of faith and opened his coffee house on the Morro Bay Embarcadero in March 2020 with a view of the ocean and Morro Rock.

Named after his dog, Daisy's Organic Coffee & Teas introduced customers to roasted organic coffee beans and fresh teas for two weeks before local stay-at-home orders forced Tardiff to temporarily close his doors. He faced the challenges of operating a new business during the COVID-19 pandemic and managed to successfully keep his doors open.

"This is what everybody had to do in different regards, and I was lucky that I've come out with my business, improving, and just doing better monthly," Tardiff said.

He cites a large amount of support from his family, landlord, neighboring businesses, and the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. They alerted him to typical tourist seasons and shared safety regulation changes.

The Morro Bay business community had its share of impacts due to stay-at-home orders and safety procedures brought on by the pandemic, but businesses didn't close like they did in other communities. In fact, about four businesses like Daisy's opened their doors and remained in operation.

Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Erica Crawford points out several reasons why businesses were able to stay afloat, and one of those factors was the city's Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

On March 16, 2020, the city launched its EOC to support the community. The EOC team worked in partnership with the SLO County Public Health Department to interpret countywide policies and worked with the business community to enhance outdoor commerce, among other things.

City Manager Scott Collins called Crawford in for the team's first meeting because he knew there was going to be a significant impact on local businesses, and the team needed her knowledge.

"At the start, we were meeting almost every day with a bigger team meeting once a week. Her voice was always key," he said.

With Crawford's input, Collins said the team identified how they could support businesses—through help with loan applications and operation regulations—and create local policies for the parklet program, designating public parking spaces for curbside pickup, or closing the Embarcadero for pedestrian use only.

Morro Bay Fire Chief Steve Knuckles, head of the EOC, deemed Crawford an important team member, as businesses would play a major role in keeping virus transmission at a minimum while continuing their operations at whatever capacity they could. The city has maintained one of the lowest infection rates in SLO County to this day.

The chamber, similar to many businesses, cut its staff, reduced hours, and closed the visitor center, effectively changing Crawford's daily duties. At the time, she was contracted with the city to oversee its economic development program.

"My job turned into watching the news, getting information from the EOC, and looking at the California Department of Public Health website and integrating all that I was learning and sending updates in the moment to our mailing list," she said.

She viewed it as a way to keep everyone in the business community informed. Part of that effort was taking down the chamber's pay wall and providing non-chamber members with access to information and resources.

Her informational email blasts were sent to a list within their database that consisted of members, former members, and interested business owners.

"I'd never say that I hit every single business in Morro Bay, but there were other businesses that were getting forwarded emails from the chamber," Crawford said.

Stephen Peck, board member and chair of the chamber's board, worked closely with Crawford to gather and share information from partnering chambers throughout the Central Coast, the Economic Vitality Corporation, and the Regional Economic Action Coalition.

He said when COVID-19 hit, "there was this instant clarifying moment that chambers are in the business of helping businesses."

"[We] made a decision that this wasn't going to be a service we provided to our members in good standing. Our interest was making sure that Morro Bay's businesses were going to survive," he said.

When the chamber hired Lynsey Hansen—a certified massage therapist who was unable to provide services through the entirety of the pandemic—in December, she wrote blurbs that highlighted businesses and business owners who were going above and beyond to operate and help others.

The chamber also created a Facebook Live video series called Walk and Talk that introduced audiences to businesses and the owners, and pandemic services such as online shopping or curbside pickup.

For nine months, Peck said, Crawford also marshaled their ambassadors group, which typically handled ribbon cutting events, to reach out to businesses on a daily basis to ask how they were doing and if they needed anything.

These months-long efforts, along with the overall decrease of infection rates and growing vaccine availability, have the chamber gearing up for the Shop, Sip & Stroll this month. Participants can tour businesses and available commercial spaces to reacquaint themselves with the commercial districts of the city. The free event will take place on the Embarcadero on June 16 and in the downtown area on June 30.

"My team and I, we feel really good in the last couple of weeks, and we're super energized. It just feels like we worked really hard for the last year, and I think we have some new programming from that effort," Crawford said. "We're really hopeful, and I think our business community is too."

Another factor that sustained Morro Bay's business community through the pandemic is its location.

City Manager Collins said that within the first couple of months of pandemic life, everyone hunkered down but were under the impression that "it would go away after a couple of months."

"After that, people just said, 'I've done my part. I need to get out of this bubble, both the real and virtual, and see something else for a minute,'" he said.

Local, regional, and out-of-town visitors flocked to the outdoors and communities that had outdoor spaces such as Morro Bay.

Frankly, Collins said, these visitors helped their local business community survive. These visitors also brought impacts such as trash, public restroom use, and illegal overnight camping. The chamber worked right alongside the city to balance those impacts for not only the visitors and businesses but residents as well.

Collins couldn't give an exact reason why there was such an unusual number of visitors in the city during the summer of 2020 and on. His hunch, he said, is that coastal communities were a lot easier to get to. At the time, people were hesitant to fly or couldn't get a flight to go on vacation so they drove.

Last year, when Daisy's Organic Coffee & Teas owner Tardiff was able to reopen his shop, he felt that he had provided coffee to a large number of tourists and locals.

As the communities across the Central Coast begin to reopen, he said the number of people who've visited his coffee shop has grown, and he's grateful for it. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at


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