Staying above water during quarantine

While many businesses struggle to tread water in the wake of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, Mike Greber and his company SCV Aquarium have managed to find a way to stay afloat. PHOTO BY BOBBY BLOCK / THE SIGNAL

While the coronavirus pandemic forced numerous businesses across the Santa Clarita Valley to shutter, others were able to navigate restrictions and come out on top.

Tackle Express, a fishing store in Santa Clarita, never closed, as their services were deemed essential.

“It stayed good for us the whole time,” said James Schneider, manager of Tackle Express.

With so many out of work and quickly developing cabin fever, Schneider says there was definitely a big influx into the fishing industry. 

“It seems like a lot of people are getting into it or finding an interest they lost years ago,” he added. “It’s been awesome to be able to help a lot of fishermen.” 

While Castaic Lake’s bait shop closed, the lake itself stayed open through the shutdown, allowing fishermen to continue fishing and frequenting Tackle Express, Schneider said.

“We were able to be there for them and provide a safe way to get out of the house,” he added. “It was kind of like the perfect storm in the industry.” 

Being the only local tackle shop still operating, Schneider said resupplying products started easy at first. 

“There was a nationwide influx of fishermen, so once other shops started to open back up, it became super hard to get product,” Schneider added. “We branched to different distributors and just kept placing orders. So far so good, but we’re still trying to catch up.” 

Tackle Express Manager Steve Castillo, left, and sales associates Harry Roberts and James Schneider. Tackle Express is one of the businesses able to stay open during the quarantine, and even saw an uptick as people sought safe refuge by the water. PHOTO BY DAN WATSON / THE SIGNAL

Similarly, SCV Aquarium, which provides aquarium services and supplies, was deemed essential and allowed to continue operating.

“The first couple of days, they didn’t consider me an essential business, but a couple days into it, they said, ‘Well, everybody’s fish are going to die if this guy doesn’t get back to work,’” owner Mike Greber said. “So, I didn’t really miss a beat.”

When Greber got involved in the industry more than 30 years ago, he never expected it could become his full-time gig. 

“I was actually a mechanic for 25 years,” he added. “I worked at the dealership during the day and then I worked from 4:30 (p.m.) to midnight at the fish store every day and every weekend.” 

Greber’s passion quickly evolved into a business, and in 2009, he started SCV Aquarium, maintaining live reefs, fish and coral, setting up new tanks, and selling new and used equipment and livestock. 

Though Greber has everything a typical business would have, including a store number, seller’s permit and business license, he decided years ago not to open a storefront for his business.

“I’ve managed aquarium stores before, and you’re a slave to them — you can never get away,” he said.

Instead, Greber decided to convert his garage into an aquarium store, complete with numerous aquariums, tanks filled with colorful coral, exotic fish and live rock, and a water treatment system that creates saltwater. 

While many businesses struggle to tread water in the wake of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, Mike Greber and his company SCV Aquarium have managed to find a way to stay afloat. June 18, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

While unexpected, this decision to base his business from home is one that helped him thrive during the shutdown.

“The local aquarium store shut down so the phone’s ringing off the hook even more than it was before,” Greber added. 

The Valencia Auto Center had no such luck, forced to close its doors for two months during the stay-at-home orders.

Even so, SCV dealerships quickly saw a rebound in the weeks that followed their reopening, according to the Santa Clarita Auto Dealers Association.

With a robust sales volume, the dealerships’ first weekend open brought 245 units sold, a difference of only one unit from the same weekend in 2019, which Don Fleming, president of the association and Valencia Acura co-owner, said was the closest thing to normal they’d experienced since the shutdown.

“I’ve been in the car business almost all my life, (and) I never could have imagined dealership showrooms being ordered to close,” Fleming said. “Navigating the constantly changing business landscape of the past two months has been challenging. Car dealers had to change their business practices overnight creating hardships due to the unclear rules and uncertainty.”

That being said, the dealers at the Valencia Auto Center have continued to see sales rebound, as buyers continue releasing the pent-up demand since the shutdown, Fleming added.

Maintenance worker Rene Martinez sprays BioPledge AntiMicrobial Protection spray on the interior of a car at Valencia Acura on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Over Memorial Day weekend, local dealerships reported a total of 497 units sold — an increase of four vehicles vs. the same Friday-to-Monday span in 2019, according to the association.

Like the dealerships, A Place to Shoot, a shooting range, was closed for a little over a month, but since its reopening, the range has seen an increase in business, according to owner Tom Watt.

“It’s been a very hectic time,” Watt said. “Between COVID and the riots, people are nervous. A lot of them are buying new firearms, and like most ranges and gun shops, we’ve been pretty busy since we opened up.” 

Nonetheless, public health restrictions have taken some adjustment for both the employees and customers. 

“It’s a new system for us to try and keep everyone separated,” Watt added. “My range (employees) are doing their best to keep reminding everyone to stay 6 feet apart.” 

At the range, shooting stations are now roped off 6 feet apart, while shooters must bring their own eye and ear protection, wear masks and are allotted two hours on the range at a time if there’s a wait.

“We’re doing our part, and most people have been pretty good about it,” Watt said. “And, of course there’s waiting times, but we’re coping with it.”

Corals available for customers to purchase are on display at SCV Aquarium. June 18, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Tackle Express Sales Associate James Schneider with the high-end salt water reels. Dan Watson/The Signal

Exotic fish swim in a tank at SCV Aquarium. June 18, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

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