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Los Angeles Store Owner Says She’s Spent $20,000 In Legal Fees In Fight To Stay Open
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16, 2020: A person walks by a display case of soda's at DTLA Smoke Shop that is temporarily closed because of the coronavirus outbreak on April 16, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. In early April, Mishali's shop was one of the first four in the city of Los Angeles criminally charged for refusing to shut down during the quarantine as city officials deemed the smoke shop a non-essential business. Mishali claimed for weeks that her store should have been allowed to operate as an essential business since it sold dry goods, paper products and cleaning supplies. The city eventually confirmed to her that she was in violation of state law.
Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Businesswoman Natali Mishali, 30, says that she’s spent over $20,000 in legal fees in a bid to open up her store in Los Angeles, despite the city shutting it down in early April and charging her for violating the public health order.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Mishali is the owner of a downtown smoke shop that also sells groceries, snacks, and cleaning supplies, in addition to the tobacco products people typically associate with smoke shops.

While the variety of offerings appears unorthodox, the store’s proximity to downtown makes it accessible to the local homeless population, which consists of about 6,500 people across the entirety of downtown, according to 2019 data from the LA Homeless Services Agency.

“We are an essential business,” said Mishali, who showed the LA Times a copy of her 2018 food market retail-permit receipt. “Some might not like the tobacco aspect of our business, but if we have the permits and we sell food, we should be allowed to be open.”

In public health guidelines published on March 19, the county indicated that stores selling groceries and cleaning products would be deemed essential. However, the county has since published revised definitions saying businesses that just happen to sell pre-packaged food are not essential. 

“The city insisted on shutting us down, and we spent the last three weeks just working and doing everything we could to get back open,” said Mishali, who says officials kept visiting her store, despite repeatedly finding that she was in compliance. “We got our confirmations from the county, and we did everything we possibly could to have an answer for anything the city could throw at us.”

While the store is currently open, the news agency reports that Mishali still has an arraignment date for early July, and could face up to six months in jail or have to pay a $1,000 fine for violating the public health order.

Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) said Tuesday that retail businesses can expect to open within the next few weeks for curbside pickup, as part of a phase 2 re-opening initiative. But phase three, which covers “higher risk work places” such as nail salons and in-person religious services, may not begin for “months.”

In a lawsuit filed against the governor and Los Angeles County officials, seven other business owners have accused the government of causing potential irreparable harm to their livelihoods, reports ABC News.

“We’ve got small businesses that have been effectively put out of business or forced to close literally without rhyme or reason,” Mark Geragos, lead attorney for the case, told the news agency.

“Our country was built on the premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and today in 2020 those freedoms are being stripped away from law-abiding citizens and businesses, without rational thought or a rational basis,” he said. 

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