by David Albanese

The streets and storefronts of Ventura County speak to the effects of COVID-19. Our cities look like ghost towns, where the signs say the same thing: that almost all small businesses are closed. If these businesses do not get the money they need to survive, the businesses that will fill the void will neither be small nor local; they will be chain stores with no sense of community and no connection to Ventura County. The onus is on local business owners, myself included, to keep their respective cities alive.

We have a duty to ensure that small businesses get grants or forgivable loans. The money should go to businesses that meet the spirit and letter of the laws designed to help them, unlike, say, the Los Angeles Lakers, which received (and have since returned) $4.6 million from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

If the money does not reach its intended recipients, every downtown in Ventura County — from Cochran Street in Simi Valley to Fifth Street in Oxnard — will lose its color. All color will fade to gray, running the length of Ventura Boulevard as the sun sets on years of culture, history, and tradition.

As the owner of a small business, which is also open for business as an essential business, I depend on customers who live or work in Ventura County. For example: I cannot provide medicinal cannabis to people who need it, if a majority of the people deem it necessary to leave the areas I serve. 

If we do nothing, more small businesses will close and more households will lose their homes to foreclosure. Gone will be family farmers and local entrepreneurs. Gone will be family-run restaurants and independent restaurateurs. Gone, too, will be the character — the content of one’s character — that defines the nature of Ojai or the spirit of Oxnard.

If we do nothing, our most promising industries will endure while our most industrious citizens will find it impossible to stay in Ventura County. Therein lie the worst effects of COVID-19: that buildings and houses will remain, but residents will flee.

Without federal aid or state assistance, Ventura County may as well be a wholly owned subsidiary of San Mateo County or Santa Clara County. That is to say, the transition of existing businesses into technology-based companies may benefit Silicon Valley more than it helps those of us who have companies in the valleys and plains of Ventura County.

We, the owners of small businesses in Ventura County, do not want to enrich our livelihoods by losing our souls. I do not want to see Oxnard lose its identity or Camarillo its charm, as conformity exacts its price and blandness imposes its toll, turning our neighborhoods into one vast outdoor mall.

We also owe a moral debt to the people of Ventura County. The parents who raised us, the teachers who educated us, the clergy who mentored us, the doctors who treated us, the nurses who healed us, the first responders who saved us — to these people belong the rewards of community, friendship and unity.

If our communities dissolve, why should strangers seek to rebuild them? If we neither care for one another nor care to know one another, what reason do we have to form communities in the first place?

No virus can kill the greatness of Ventura County. But a great many things can destroy the goodness of our towns and cities, starting with the loss of those small businesses that offer various goods and services.

Let us, therefore, unite in support of Ventura County’s small business owners.

We must protect our communities.

David Albanese is the CEO of High Farms, which provides business and technology solutions for the cannabis industry, and a lifelong resident of Oxnard.