covid-19 closure

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”

-Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart), Star Trek: The Next Generation

These are unusual times. Camellia Rd is closing its doors until further notice. Through all the planning and all the worst-case scenarios in these last few years, this is something that I never predicted. It’s hard to realize and accept that some things in life are beyond our control.

In January, the novel coronavirus first pinged on my radar as something potentially serious. China placed strong restrictions on businesses and travel during the lunar new year holiday, typically about 2 weeks. Its cultural and economic impact is similar to our holiday season from Christmas to New Year’s. There were some reports about how major cities like Shanghai had become empty; when it became clear this would have an impact on global supply chains, I had initial concerns about our sources for loose leaf tea.

Things were still mostly calm in the U.S. and it would remain that way for the first weeks of February. But cases were starting to pop up. Much of my family lives in L.A. County, and they gave personal accounts about restaurants slowing down and shopping plazas becoming quieter. Locally, there were only some small signs of what was coming to San Diego. Convoy district businesses began to slow down. There was a general unease in the restaurant community. Our local Costco Business Center, which primarily serves bulk items for small businesses, starting having a lot more regular customers looking for specific items like sanitizer, toilet paper or bottled water.

As March rolled around things started happening very quickly. On March 9, UC San Diego and other college campuses announced they would be switching to online classes for the remainder of the academic year. Students began moving out to return to their homes and families. On Thursday, March 12, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer declared a state of emergency. On Monday, March 16, Camellia Rd switched to to-go only, just a day ahead of the San Diego city directive to do so. The store got considerably slower the next few days. And on the evening of Thursday, March 19, California Governor Gavin Newsom directed a statewide stay at home policy. We had our action plan in place for this, but it was difficult nonetheless.

There was some discussion of our options. We talked about reducing store hours or offering some form of discount such as BOGO. Normally these are good tactics to increase the customer demand. But I was faced with this internal struggle; any effort to increase sales revenue for a food establishment would mean increasing people coming into the store in a restricted time frame. And this systematically increases the potential for person to person contact between customers. I love boba. It is so good at bringing people and communities together. But right now, life calls for people to stay (six feet) apart, so bringing people together is the actually opposite of what we are trying to do. And that’s been a hard thing to accept.

Thank you to all the people reaching out to us and lending their support verbally and spiritually. Thank you to all the people working around the clock right now, doing essential work, to get us through this crisis. Thank you to the all the people finding the conviction to still be neighborly. I want so much to hand you a perfect cup of boba. It’s what we deserve, but it’s just not what we need right now.

So we’ll stay closed until then, and fight really damn hard to reopen.

-Ricky Lau