Signs of life in Old Town Temecula emerge as merchants begin to reopen

Under the Willow storefront
Megan MacIntyre, owner of the Under the Willow women's clothing store in Old Town Temecula, sets up a display of garments and accessories for curbside shopping as coronavirus restrictions are eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

It was not quite a Black Friday level of frenzy in Old Town Temecula as last weekend was the first time since early March that retail businesses could reopen.

But it was a start.

Mike Freeville, owner of Granny’s Attic and Old Town Antique Faire, said it was a good start to the reopening process and shoppers were thrilled to have a chance to peruse.

“They were overjoyed that we would let a couple of them in, you know, as long as they kept their distance and their masks,” he said. “But yeah, overwhelmingly glad that they were able to do some shopping.”

Linda Conceicao
Fourth Street Antiques manager Linda Conceicao reopens for business May 9, in Old Town Temecula as some Riverside County coronavirus restrictions are eased. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

On Thursday, May 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, broadly outlined the changes under Phase 2 of the governor’s multipoint plan for reducing regulations and restarting the state’s economy, while stressing the virus is no less dangerous.

The changes do not add to the state mandates in place for residents conducting everyday affairs, but they do call for workplace adjustments as businesses reopen.

The state relaxed its health order Friday, May 8, allowing “low-risk” businesses such as clothing and bookstores, music shops, toy stores, sporting goods stores and florists to reopen with curbside service only.

People shop around several antique stores in Old Town Temecula as coronavirus restrictions are eased on retail businesses in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Newsom said the state will consider petitions from individual counties that want to go further and allow other businesses to open, but the decision will be based on strict guidelines.

“Of course, we’re open to argument, interested in their unique conditions and circumstances, and we’ll try to provide some flexibility,” Newsom said.

There is still a lot of gray area within those orders. So, Freeville and other antique stores in Temecula like Fourth Street Antiques and The Barn Yard also had their doors open Friday to varying degrees.

A stream of motorists travels along Old Town Front Street after weeks of minimal activity at Temecula’s tourist destination due to the coronavirus lockdown. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Barnyard Chicks and Under the Willow, a gift shop and clothing retailer were also open.

“My store is big enough and I mean there’s not a ton of people, but the ones that call are just over overwhelmed, you know, thinking you have somewhere to go for a little bit,” Freeville said. “If a liquor store can sell milk and be allowed to be open, we do too. We have tools, we have coverings and face masks.”

There was a renewed hope with other business owners in Old Town, some that have been open and some that only recently opened their doors.

People enter retail businesses opening in Old Town Temecula after coronavirus restrictions are eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“We reopened the stores almost two weeks ago and we’ve seen more and more people coming through,” Tom Curry of Temecula Olive Oil Company said. “We’ve definitely seen traffic building, people ready to get out and about. I think with the weather and just being cooped up, people are getting a little stir crazy.”

Curry said the company closed all seven of its retail locations March 16. The company had an already robust e-commerce platform to help them weather the storm, Curry said.

“It’s kind of kept our head above water,” he said. “We’ve been playing in that arena for a while, so it’s been helping us.

filming a music video
A rap artist films a music video in Old Town Temecula as coronavirus restrictions were eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“I think we’re still learning. We’re going to definitely see that the environment is going to be different. Retail is going to be a lot different than it was two months ago. We’re going to try to be nimble and meet the needs. I think what this shows us is that the unexpected should be expected because no one saw this coming,” Curry said.

Still, Curry said, they were encouraged by people coming through the doors recently.

“The community has been embracing it,” he said. “Everyone that’s coming in, is like, ‘Oh, thank you for opening,’” he said. “So, it’s been really encouraging. We’re getting a lot of support from the community and it’s really nice.”

He said he thinks the nicer weather is helping.

People shop at Fourth Street Antiques in Old Town Temecula as retail businesses open after coronavirus restrictions are eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“Americans want to be Americans,” Curry said.

Owner Min-ed Gendy of the Old Town Sweet Shop was manning the front counter as a mother and son checked out the offerings. His wife was busy cleaning all the surfaces in the store.

“I am open but of course with limited hours, not like before,” Gendy said. “Limited hours, limited customers. But I am fighting, I am open, but fewer customers and this is the problem, right? I am hoping to reopen fully again get our customers back again.”

Gendy said he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, where there wasn’t one before.

people walking in Old Town Temecula
People walk along Old Town Front Street in Temecula as retail businesses open after coronavirus restrictions are eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“It’s not back to normal 100%,” he said. “But we can say about 20% to 30%.”

“Do I see the hope at the end of the tunnel here that’s coming up?” Mad Madeline’s Grill owner Sid Hamilton said while working on the patio area of his restaurant. “Yes. There’s hope. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting shorter until we can reopen. But from what I’m hearing it’s not going to be 100%. I don’t know what the percentage is they are going to allow. Is it 50% and 6 feet apart like we did in the beginning and then they narrowed it down and got rid of that?”

Hamilton said he is interested to see what some employees are going to do when more and more businesses are allowed to reopen. Throughout the state and country, many have been laid off.

“With employees, yes, they are happy right now and getting their unemployment check, their $600 from EDD,” he said. “But pretty soon here, they’re going to have to up and get off the couch and go back to work. And you know what, that’s reality. Are they going to go back to work?”

People descend upon Old Town Temecula as retail businesses open after coronavirus restrictions are eased in Riverside County. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Hamilton said he plans on rehiring the employees he had to cut back on when the doors can reopen a little more.

“We never closed the doors because I didn’t want to throw away my food and I wanted to help the community and help the city and help the people eat,” Hamilton said. “To at least have somewhere to go and get something different or at least to get out of the house safely, come down and utilize all the curbside delivery and take out delivery services.”

He also stayed open to teach his sons and young employees about working hard for what you get in life.

“I’m trying to teach my kids, I have two boys and two stepsons and I have my cook and his son,” Hamiton said. “I’m trying to teach the young crowd that you pull your pants up at day and you go to work and you get through it and you do the best you can.

“But you know what? The world needs to rotate again and we need to get this economy back together,” he said. “We need to get our city and our counties and everybody needs to get up off of their butts and we need to get going again because it’s getting worse and worse every day.”

City News Service contributed to this story.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at,