Chris Mittelstaedt successfully navigated his San Francisco Bay Area fruit and snack delivery business through the dot-com bust, the 2008 financial crisis and the first few months of the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, along with many of America’s small-business owners, his hopes for a quick economic recovery have been dashed. Surging COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country and fears of additional outbreaks are forcing him to face a longer-term financial crisis. This month, Mr. Mittelstaedt laid off nearly half of the 163 workers at The FruitGuys.

“I was in tears…I spent every day for 22 years of my professional life building a family business with people I love,” the 51-year-old said shortly after the layoffs. “I either have to lay people off so I have a shot at hiring people back when we recover, or end up bankrupting the company.”

Photographed on assignment in South San Francisco, Calif. for The Wall Street Journal.

Text by Ruth Simon.

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