At first, you could only get single rolls of toilet paper. Then the flour and sugar supplies dried up. The mask battles came next. Ben Painter, Manager of SPD markets, remembers one shopper taking a swing at him.
“My gray hair has increased since this thing began,” says Painter.
But starting this Tuesday, Painter, along with many local business and community leaders, can hopefully begin putting the bad memories behind them. As of Tuesday, California will officially “reopen”, per the Governor’s mandate, and almost all restrictions put in place during the pandemic will be lifted. Everything from bowling alleys to bars to dance studios will be legally allowed to resume as usual — for the most part.
Many welcome this green light; others don’t feel quite comfortable with it. A survey of businesses and organizations in Nevada City and Grass Valley revealed a big difference in reopening plans. But regardless of approach, it’s clear that the way we do business has shifted in ways that may never be the same again.
Masks have been the major sticking point for consumers during the pandemic. That issue has not been resolved. The guidelines put forth by the state of California and the CDC say that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in public, but unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people do. The obvious flaw in this approach is that it assumes people will operate on the honor system. Short of requiring customers to flash their vaccination card at the door, there’s nothing a business can do to identify those who, according to state government mandate, still need to wear a mask. Therefore, a business is effectively presented with two choices if they plan to reopen: either require all customers to wear a mask, or abandon mask requirements.
For the most part, local businesses are doing the latter. Grocery stores SPD and The BriarPatch Food Coop, will no longer require customers to wear masks after June 15th. However, until at least the 30th of the month, they will follow OSHA guidelines and continue to require their employees to wear them. Many local restaurants and bars will drop these on Tuesday.
But there are some businesses that are not ready to abandon masks just yet. Nevada City boutique, Kitkitdizzi, hired a doorman during the pandemic to supply customers with masks and a hand sanitizer spritz before entering.
“We wanted the mask and hand sanitizer conversation to happen before people came in the store, not inside,” says Kitkitdizzi co-owner Carrie Hawthorne. She says many customers expressed that they felt more at ease with this gatekeeper approach, and Kitkitdizzi plans to keep their doorman on staff, at least for the time being.
“We pay close attention to the county [COVID] numbers, and we’ll make a decision based on that,” says Hawthorne.
Game nights will resume at Grass Valley Games, starting with a Magic the Gathering Commander Deck tournament on Sunday the 20th, but players will be required to wear masks. The Nevada City United Methodist Church will begin in-person services on July 4th, but will also ask all congregants to wear masks, at least for the first few weeks.
Businesses and services that were especially vulnerable during the pandemic are finally opening up. Salsa Sierra, an adult dance studio in Nevada City, is resuming its full class schedule this week. Grass Valley bowling alley Prosperity Lanes is now open. The public pool at Pioneer Park is opening in the evenings this week, and then all day Tuesday through Saturday, beginning June 19th. (The public pool at Memorial Park in Grass Valley is closed this summer for renovations.) Indoor live music events began again at the Miners Foundry last Saturday.
Movie theaters have arguably been dealt the toughest hand during the pandemic. Sierra Theaters co-manager Michael LaMarca declined to say whether his theaters would be open or not this week.
“Imagine a very complicated machine with lots of parts that have to work together that’s been taken apart, strewn around, and left out in the rain,” says LaMarca. “We’re putting the parts back together, and we’re going to be testing them. But we may very well decide not to [open].”
The Onyx Theater, an art house cinema in Nevada City, will only be open for private showings for the foreseeable future. Last weekend, the Onyx began allowing patrons to book one of the two screening rooms for a group of their friends, and select one of 20 indie, foreign and documentary films from its library. However, the offering was so popular, all of the private rental slots have been booked through the end of July.
“I don’t want to open just because the state is reopening,” says Onyx General Manager Celine Negrete. “We trust that, as a staff, we will know when we’re ready.”
Though the pandemic was, with a few exceptions, devastating for businesses, it did force a number of creative adaptations, some of which will remain beyond Tuesday. Many restaurants and bars expanded outside in order to stay open, and found that the outdoor seating was popular with customers. Grass Valley Brewing Company’s popular streetside picnic tables are here to stay. The downtown commercial section of Mill Street in Grass Valley has been turned into a pedestrian-only street permanently, doing so initially to accommodate pandemic-era outdoor dining. The Golden Era in Nevada City will continue to hold events in its COVID-era back patio.
Bars, according to state restrictions, were supposed to serve food in order to stay open during the pandemic (there was varied compliance on this, locally.) Some of those that did begin serving food will continue to do so. The Miners Foundry Cultural Center, for instance, opened up a breakfast cafe serving pastries and coffee on weekend mornings. Executive Director Gretchen Bond says (this) will continue beyond Tuesday. The Golden Era will continue its dining program, as well.
Curbside pick-up, offered this year as a way to protect consumers from exposure to COVID, will continue for many businesses, as well.
“It’s like an added feature for retail, and I think we should just always have it,” says Kitkitdizzi’s Hawthorne.
Although COVID inspired infamous conflicts and political rifts in the community, there were also alliances. In reflecting on the past year, local business owners say they were pleasantly surprised at the ways they were able to support one another. Salsa Sierra owner Lucy Galbraith says her landlords accepted “a token” she pulled out of her savings account in months when she couldn’t make full rent. Miners Foundry’s Bond says she and a handful of other Nevada City businesses began to talk on a more regular basis, exchanging info on resources.
“We would talk about, ‘How are you going to do this now? Where are you going to get your tent from? Don’t forget this grant,’” says Bond.
Although the reopening of businesses may be welcome news to customers, the public may have to keep their enthusiasm on the downlow. Bond says that the state has provided some buzzkill rules around vocal displays of enthusiasm in event venues.
“You can’t whoop inside. There’s no cheering or booing,” says Bond.
This may be tough for people who are feeling cooped up and ready to let off some steam. Fortunately, there are no restrictions on dancing for joy.