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Café owner in Virginia Beach shares struggle of COVID-19 pandemic with visiting politicians

Despite receiving some grant money to help her, Tomeka Wallace faces challenges that other small business owners do. She discussed those with politicians.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — “I wanted to pack up and close several times,” said Happy Café owner Tomeka Wallace who, like other small business owners, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a year after coronavirus put the country and Virginia on lockdown, Wallace talked about the pressure the pandemic put on her and the business she opened just before life changed for everyone.

“What went through my mind is, 'God, I just got here, and how am I supposed to make this work, being that I just opened?'" Wallace said.

The café went from dine-in to full-time takeout. By June 2020, Wallace said she lost all her staff. She applied for and received a couple of grants that gave her roughly $45,000, but her monthly expenses are around $14,000, not including paying her employees.

“I’m going to keep on going as long as I can. That is my goal. I know that I wasn’t sent here for no reason. It’s a reason behind it all,” she said.

On Friday, Congresswoman Elaine Luria and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe stopped by Happy Café. The Democrats talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt small businesses across the country. They said it’s had a disproportionate impact on Black- and Brown-owned businesses.

“Hearing a story like today, just tells me that we need to continue to do more to make sure we are reaching every business that needs that assistance,” Luria explained.

Wallace said she’s doing everything she can to stay afloat. She said one of the biggest challenges right now is hiring people to work.

She explained, “We had a red hiring sign, ever since last year, and people just didn’t apply. I mean, I guess there is too much money that they receive not working, so why work?”

Wallace said she is thankful for good customers who keep coming through her doors.

“I’m hoping for the best. It can’t get any worse,” she explained.

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