By Da Lin

BERKELEY (KPIX) — As COVID-19 infection rates soar in the Bay Area, some small businesses are making big changes to handle the omicron surge.

A sign outside of Nathan and Company on College Avenue in Oakland instructs shoppers that no more than 12 customers are allowed inside the store at a time.

“Last Thursday, we decided to go back to capacity restriction,” said owner Nathan Waldon.

His smaller Piedmont Avenue store has a limit of six people and only one worker at a time is allowed behind the register. Other employees have to spread out.

Waldon also bought a lot of rapid test kits for his staff. He believed the changes will ensure worker and customer safety.

“People are a little bit more reluctant to come out. They do not want to be in a crowded store,” Waldon said.

Waldon said even though all the workers have been vaccinated and boosted, three out of 19 people recently tested positive.

“This week, we’re functioning with temporary people in temporary slots just to keep the doors open,” Waldon said.

Aside from the operational challenges, he said business is rapidly cooling off after a record-breaking December. He’s not alone.

“January is always a slower month but we are seeing a dip. I think a lot of people are really concerned with the variant,” said Maria Blum-Sullivan. She and her husband own Paraiso Plant Studio at the popular Fourth Street shopping district in Berkeley.

She said they’ve had no COVID cases among the staff so far but some workers are isolating because of potential exposure. She’s been staying home the past six days because her daughter was exposed to an infected person.

“We’re closing for two days next week, Monday and Tuesday, because of lack of staffing. And also because my husband probably worked the last 14 days straight so he needs a break,” Blum-Sullivan said.

To counter the drop in foot traffic, they’re now offering next-day delivery, hoping to generate more online sales.

After almost two years of non-stop pivoting, a lot of small retailers say that, if they can survive this pandemic, they can overcome anything.

“I absolutely have total confidence everything is going to be OK,” Waldon said.