Lodi Mayor Doug Kuehne was walking along North School Street Friday morning, informing Downtown Lodi small businesses they can open their doors once again, as well as let them know about plans to help them make a little more during a time of reduced capacity.
“I’m thrilled that many of our businesses finally get to open,” he said. “It was a long time coming, and a little too long, in my opinion. But we’re happy to be moving forward and returning to some sense of normalcy.”
Eateries like Porters Pub and Smack Pie Pizza were setting tables up in their outdoor patio areas, preparing for soft evening and dinner openings.
Shay Porter, co-owner of Porters Pub, said she is limiting guests to the outdoor dining area and six seats at the bar inside for the time being.
“It feels great. We've missed all our regular faces,” she said. “Our regulars are like family. They’ve missed us. People go to bars and restaurants because they want to socialize, and it’s not the same walking in for a couple minutes, getting your to-go order and having that quick conversation. They want to come in, sit and talk.”
Porter said her phone had been ringing constantly Thursday night and Friday morning, with customers asking if she would be opening. Because of the high volume of calls, Porter decided a small, quiet opening the first day back to dine-in services would not overwhelm her staff.
Smack Pie owners Vicki Snell and Krysta Pleyte also elected to undertake a small opening, limiting service to the hours of 4-8 p.m.
“We miss our customers and the interaction, that’s why we have the kitchen out front,” Pleyte said. “It’s to be able to interact with people. We're not really a behind-the-scenes sort of place. We miss the neighbors and friends and we're ready for (opening).”
The mother and daughter duo said the limited service will continue through the Memorial Day weekend, and if things go well, they might consider opening for lunch once again. Pleyte said they were able to rehire a third of their staff, and they are hoping they’ll be able to keep up if there is a rush of customers.
Kelli Ann Knowles, owner of the Stella Mitchell boutique, said finally being able to open the doors and let customers inside to shop felt like small businesses had survived a storm.
She said she was grateful the Lodi community continued to support local owners like herself and her downtown neighbors during uncertain economic times.
“I definitely think there’s going to be life (downtown) again,” she said. “I feel fell like a weight’s been lifted. As a community, we pulled together, we stayed strong, we supported each other and now its time to celebrate.”
Knowles said she will be open at her regular hours of operation, seven days a week. For the holiday weekend, she was offering 25% off purchases of $100 or more not only to encourage Lodians to return to downtown and shop, but to let them feel there was a sense of normalcy returning in a safe and clean environment.
Kuehne was not only bringing small business owners the good news, he was also informing them that the Lodi City Council approved a plan Wednesday to have the School Street sidewalks cleaned.
The goal, he said, was to perhaps shut down School Street on weekends and allow restaurants to overflow into the street to meet their serving capacity and maintain safety guidelines.
“We know restaurants can’t make it on 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, or even 70% capacity,” he said. “You have to be talking 90% to make it, and we want to at least afford them that opportunity, at least on weekends.”
Kuehne added he was also speaking to the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control to possibly allow restaurants to serve alcohol in the street, should the city move forward with its weekend plans to help those businesses meet capacity.
During his visits to local businesses, Kuehne asked if they understood the guidelines and requirements the state has mandated to ensure both employees and customers remain safe from the potential spread of COVID-19.
Those guidelines include ensuring patrons and employees maintain six feet of distance between one another at all times, and that surfaces and high-traffic areas are cleaned and sanitized as often as possible.
Employers must screen their workers for COVID-19 symptoms each day before they enter the business, and are encouraged to provide protective coverings such as face masks and gloves for them.
Retailers must post signage in visible areas of their stores reminding patrons they should wear protective face masks and practice social distancing while inside.
“Because our space is so large, social distancing isn’t a problem,” Knowles said. “And we've always been very diligent about cleaning, and that's not really any different than what we’ve done during a ‘normal’ business day.”
At Smack Pie, Snell and Pleyte said they believed they could work under the guidelines, for now.
“I think it's a good way to start back in business, to take it slow,” Snell said. “I think it's going to kind of dictate to us how to work. We're going have to reconfigure how its going to go, gain some momentum and take a little feedback from the customers to see what we're doing right and what we still need to work on.”
Porter said she and her staff didn’t mind cleaning the restaurant all day, as it was something required under regular business conditions. When the pandemic began, she said staff would set menus near disinfectant supplies and wipe them down before recirculating them.
“It’s going to be hard wearing the masks,” she said “It’s a little hard to breathe through those, and the temperatures this week are supposed to hit 100 degrees. It's going be a little uncomfortable for my servers, and that's going to be the biggest thing to get used to.”
A full list of guidelines for each industry can be found at www.covid19. ca.gov/industry-guidance.
Doors opened a day after the California Department of Public Health posted San Joaquin County’s variance of attestation online at www.cdph.gov. The county joined a list of 42 among the state’s 58 that were given the greenlight to move further along Stage 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Roadmap to Recovery.
Doors not only opened for retailers and restaurants, but for shopping malls, car washes, pet groomers, tanning facilities and childcare facilities, as well.
Manufacturers, commercial offices and outdoor museums and open gallery spaces were also allowed to open Friday.
However, other industries that have been vocal about going back to work remain closed for the time being. Churches, gyms and beauty salons are slated to reopen during Stage 3 of the governor’s Roadmap to Recovery, which Newsom has stated in the past is “weeks away.”
Locally, the Cross Culture Christian Center has sued Newsom, the county and City of Lodi, claiming stay-at-home orders issued in March violate its religious freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution. The church has joined some 1,200 houses of worship in a plan to open for congregation on May 31, with or without government approval.
In addition, Fitness System owner Sean Covell has also sued the governor, county and city, claiming the orders violate his First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.
Covell told the Sacramento Bee earlier this week he had reached an agreement with Sacramento County to open his two locations in Land Park and West Sacramento today, but that was quashed when state health officials told the county it was too soon to let that industry reopen.
Bars, wineries, tasting rooms, theaters, hotels, community centers, public pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas are some other businesses and amenities that are not allowed to open yet.