In February, Coast Tickets owner Felicia Behar got a call from one of her regular customers requesting a refund for hockey tickets. The reason: he was feeling too sick to attend.
The month prior, she had heard passing conversations about the coronavirus from her customers. She said she “didn’t think anything of it.” That is, until March came around.
“First thing that was cancelled was the NCAA games that were happening in Anaheim,” she said. “Once that happened, it was just a ricochet. One event after another started to cancel.”
Coast Tickets was on the cusp of its 20-year anniversary celebration. 2019 had been one of her best years on record. Her hopes for an expected “growth spurt” in 2020 were dashed.
As the State of California went into lockdown, the returns came rolling in. With so many events cancelled or postponed, her losses were staggering.
“My inventory, my livelihood, was in limbo. That was the most unsettling feeling I have ever felt,” she said. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years. I’ve never had anything like this. Even 9/11, nothing got cancelled or shut down.”
Many of the tickets came from the winter rush she’d experienced just a few months prior, a surge in ticket sales as gifts for the holidays that made up 30% of her annual earnings.
The proceeds had already been reinvested in her business. Nonetheless, she issued refunds to every single customer.
But Behar’s business relies on contracts. Although an event may be cancelled, her money is still in the hands of ticket distributors who offered incentives for businesses to maintain their contracts.
“I’ve got all my livelihood invested in future ticket sales,” she said.
Unlike other businesses during the pandemic, Coast Tickets hasn’t had to deal with complicated reopening guidelines. As restaurant owners crossed their fingers for indoor dining, parklets and new restrictions that would allow them to reopen, Behar’s business lay stagnant.
Her business is reliant on in-person events, particularly sporting events and plays that traditionally take place in settings with hundreds, if not thousands of other people.
“With live events, large crowds, it’s just not something that anybody is looking to do right now. Especially with the second lockdown, it’s not even on their minds,” Behar said. “Basically, we are hanging on for life.”
She had expected 2020 to bring big profits to her business. The Dodgers’ World Series Games, the Lakers’ NBA Championship were within grasp. The long-awaited SoFi Stadium in Inglewood had just been opened, poised to be the new home of both the Chargers and Rams.
The list of indefinitely postponed events goes on: the Tokyo Summer Olympics, Long Beach Grand Prix, Orange County Fair, Pasadena’s Rose Parade, the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals.
Sports leagues have seen billion-dollar losses in ticket sales this year. A July report by Statistica estimates potential losses in Major League Baseball at $5.13 billion, NBA losses at $1.69 billion and NHL losses at $1.12 billion.
These losses trickle down to ticket businesses like Behar’s.
“You take the bad years in business, and so you look forward to these good years,” she said. “With the playoffs and World Series happening, that’s where the real big losses come in. This pandemic could not have happened at a worse time.”
During the night of the Dodgers’ World Series win, Behar was at home listening to fireworks boom across the city.
“What was on my mind was how I missed out on being a part of it,” she said. Normally, she’d be attending the games herself along with sending her customers to see their team. “It’s been tough for me.”
Restaurant owners, realtors and business owners alike came together to create a GoFundMe with a $10,000 goal for Behar’s business expenses.
“It is so humbling. I never, never realized that my local business associates were so kind and caring,” Behar said. “I feel that I owe them for the rest of my life.”
The money collected from the GoFundMe will go towards business expenses like rent, utilities and payroll for the longtime employee that she’s kept on the books, despite her losses.
Even with this help, Behar is worried whether Coast Tickets will be able to weather the storm.
“That’s what’s really scary, because I don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said, pointing out that the recent lockdown brings more uncertainty.
“I don’t know what’s going to carry us through now and when it opens,” Behar said. “But I will say one thing– restaurants and other small businesses will open before mine. We’re going to be the last industry to open up.”
The Signal Tribune’s current publisher and former publisher are both contributors to the Coast Tickets GoFundMe.