For Valley small-business owners, vacation is uncertain

August 21, 2011 

While some people's summer vacations take them across the country, many small-business owners are stuck at work, grappling with the decision to take even a few days off.

Taking time off -- for vacation, illness or jury duty -- always has been a challenge, one that is extra difficult this year given the fragile state of businesses in the economic downturn.

Forty-six percent of small-business owners said they planned to take a vacation this summer, down from 67% in 2006, according to an American Express survey of small businesses.

Yet, times like these are when vacations are needed the most, said Bill Myers, owner of Fresno Strategic Business Coaching in Fresno.

He said he thinks every business owner needs two consecutive weeks off away from the business every year to refresh.

"I believe you get stale in running a business during times like this when there's so much pressure that sometimes you can't see the needle for the haystack," he said.

But when only a handful of people run the business, getting away can be difficult. Some small-business owners simply don't take time off. Others close their business down completely or call in parents or children who sometimes work for free.

Planned down time

There are no summer getaways for the owners of El Matador, a tiny Mexican restaurant on Shaw Avenue near Armstrong Avenue in Clovis. Instead, the restaurant normally shuts down between Christmas and New Year's Day. It's the only time the five employees, all family, take time off, said Jesus Enriquez, who owns the business with his wife, Elfie.

Caribbean cruises and trips to Puerto Rico are packed into that one week.

But this year's vacation is in jeopardy due to a slowdown in business. El Matador may need to stay open for the income.

"I don't know this year," said Enriquez, who works six days a week. "We're a little tight."

Myers said that closing for vacation may cost sales, but customers generally don't mind if they know why the business isn't open.

After 23 years in business, Enriquez said his loyal customers understand.

Thin staff

There will be no vacations any time soon for the owners of the Pinedale Lawn Mower Center on Birch Avenue in Fresno.

Alice and Manuel Rodriguez also close the 36-year-old business between Christmas and New Year's, giving their four mechanics and two front counter employees time off.

There have been summertime vacations in the past. But now there are two new counter employees who haven't worked there long enough to run the company alone, Alice Rodriguez said.

And the couple has been dealing with injuries.

Last year, Alice Rodriguez broke her wrist and couldn't work for three months because she couldn't use the computer or write. Now, her husband is recovering from shoulder surgery following a car accident.

"If he has to be off, I'm here," Alice Rodriguez said. Both times they relied on their son, who has his own full-time job at UPS, to come in and help out when he can.

Help from family

At PCH Subs in Clovis, family is the only reason co-owner Guy Foell gets two days off a week.

The shop, at Herndon and Fowler avenues, is co-owned by Foell and his parents, Dick, 76, and Chic, 70, Foell. They fill in on Guy Foell's days off and the occasional vacation. And they work for free.

"This is their investment, so by them working, it helps save money," Guy Foell said.

The money saved by not paying them goes toward the rainy day fund for when equipment breaks down, he said.

His parents fill in for his vacations, too, like the week he just took at a timeshare in Tahoe -- his first vacation of the year.

"I tell most of my employees to find a real job so you can have two weeks off," he joked.

Many business owners don't take vacation because they have trouble letting go in this economy -- even if the business could survive without them, Myers said.

"I think the fear of failure is what keeps most of them from taking the vacation," he said.

And many feel that if they take that much time off, they need to do something big, like a trip to Europe, he said.

"Baloney," said Myers. "Just go pitch a tent over on the coast for two weeks. It will do them psychologically a world of wonder."

The reporter can be reached at bclough@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6431.

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