Stage 2.5 business reopenings hold promise for economic recovery in ‘new normal’

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Party City store
Party City in Menifee sees plenty of business Saturday, May 30, following its Stage 2 coronavirus reopening allowed by the state and county health officers. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Although the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the county health office recently announced the county has reached Stage 2 in the coronavirus pandemic, with hospitalizations decreasing, limited nonessential businesses may now open but must limit the number of customers inside a business, maintaining 6-foot social distance and wearing masks.

Even before the county and state medical officers decided to ease restrictions, some retail, businesses, bars and houses of worship defied the restrictions prohibiting large gatherings and continued to conduct business as usual much to the dismay of health officials, knowing that Riverside County law enforcement would not intervene.

Now that those restrictions have been eased, not many of those “nonessential” businesses have reopened, fearing the number of coronavirus cases could still spike and lead to a reappearance of the disease. The business owners feared that any spike in the coronavirus hospital admissions and deaths could lead to even stricter restrictions by county, state and federal health officials and increased code and law enforcement.

Party City store
Celebration balloons and gifts attract many shoppers in the Menifee Party City store at 30115 Countryside Marketplace enjoying the store reopening in the coronavirus Stage 2. Valley News/Tony Ault photo
Party City
This customer leaves Party City in Menifee with loads of balloons for her high school graduate following a two-month shutdown of all nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Caution is the word for the nonessential business world, while the remaining businesses, like the big box food, goods, service stores and commercial services initially, deemed “essential” in the first phase of the pandemic, are still reaping record profits.

The owners and managers of nonessential businesses in Hemet, San Jacinto and Menifee who have chosen to reopen under the new Phase 2 requirements have displayed both hope and determination that their stores will return to profitability in the coming months. Others have opened with the knowledge that if they don’t soon, they will have to close forever and put them and their employees out of work for the long term. Others have found they are busier than ever before.

Caution is best explained by Teresa Sanchez, manager of Don Roberto Jewelers in the Hemet Valley Mall, who had just opened her story Friday, May 29, for the first time in two months.

“It was really sad we had to worry about ourselves but our employees as well. I was glad they drew unemployment. I’m really excited to bring our girls back to work,” she said of the reopening. “But you have to be cautious now, both for our customers and employees.”

Her employees were busy wiping each of the glass jewelry cases and carefully placing the items in the case wearing gloves.

Signs, like this one in the Menifee PetSmart, dot almost every store and business, warning customers to keep their social distance and wear masks when they shop.  Valley News/Tony Ault photo

In another part of the mall at 2000 W. Florida Ave. in Hemet, a merchant in the Men’s Trendz clothing store wearing gloves was wiping down the clothes racks inside the still locked business, hoping to open his store Monday, June 1. Other stores, except for the anchor stores of Hobby Lobby, Sprint and other jewelry and clock stores, were still closed with the anticipated full mall store opening soon.

Entering Hobby Lobby, customers were greeted by an employee holding an iPad, keeping count of each customer coming in and leaving to be sure the store never had more than the coronavirus health mandated 25% occupancy at any one time. Every customer was required to wear a mask and keep 6 feet away from other customers.

At 3:30 p.m. Friday, the store occupancy was at 177, well below the maximum 220 allowed, but it very busy with customers.

The comfort chairs in the mall’s center walkway were wrapped with yellow caution tape and could not be used. The food tables were set 6-10 feet apart in the center of the mall, but no customers were sitting with the restaurant, Subway and snack bars still closed.

In East Hemet, Ramon Alvarado, owner of UR Nxt Barber Shop at 2123 Florida Ave., was all smiles as his barbers clipped their first customer’s hair in almost three months. He said he and his workers managed to get by during closing of his “nonessential” business due to the coronavirus.

“We felt trapped every minute,” he said. “We had to do something instead of just laying down. I think we should have been an “essential” business for my boys.”

He said he is happy it is over.

“Now that we are busy, I’m tired,” he said. “We’ve got to get back on our feet. We don’t feel trapped anymore. Hopefully we will stay open.”

Traffic on the overpass at Interstate 215 and Newport Road was once again extremely heavy Saturday, May 30, with residents heading to the Countryside Marketplace and other locations.

Great Clips storefront
Menifee resident Rafael Rivera waits his turn for a long-sought haircut from his favorite barbershop, Sports Clips Haircuts in Menifee, since the nonessential businesses in the community are able to reopen in the Coronavirus pandemic. Valley News/Tony Ault photo
Best Buy storefront
Menifee’s Best Buy store, like other Best Buy electronic stores in southwest Riverside County are now allowing customers inside to shop with an appointment required and social distancing still being required in the coronavirus pandemic. Curb service is still available for customers. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

The Party City store at 30115 Countryside Marketplace, off Haun Road, was open and bustling with activity with shoppers coming in and out of the store with strings of balloons and party goods for high school and college graduation parties.

Gavin Nichols, the store’s assistant manager, took a quick minute away and said, “We’re even busier than before especially with the curbside pickups still going.”

For their 10 employees the reopening came just in time, he said.
Up the block, Rafael Raviera, wearing a mask, waited for his name to be called at Sports Clips Haircuts, 30155 Countryside Marketplace.

“It’s been a couple of months since I got my mop cut. I was surprised when the shop opened,” he said.

He said he had to make an appointment to get his haircut because the shop that normally boasts “walk-ins welcome” was so busy.

“I gotta get rid of this mop,” he said in some desperation.

But a hairdresser came out, calling his name and begging him to come back in another hour because they were so busy. Niki Nails next door was still closed due to the coronavirus orders, and its opening was still undetermined.

Across Haun Road, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse customers lined up outside on the patio, awaiting their reservation times. Dining in was offered only by reservation at the popular restaurant, but the bar remained closed for now.

Best Buy, the major electronics retailer in the center, was also only allowing customers who called for an appointment to enter the store. The curbside pickup remained busy.

Other Menifee stores, like Salon Creations off Bradley Road, are now open, along with many other restaurants like Provecho Grill and Zesty Shawarma, which were working to expand their dining options according to the current public health orders.

The Hemet Sizzler Restaurant, 4762 W. Florida Ave., is following strict in-house dining orders, seating every other dining booth. Customers must enter the building with masks on until they receive their food. The waitresses are careful to keep their distance from customers while serving and will make salads and soups to customers’ orders since the salad bar is no longer self-serve.

The “new normal” has begun as nonessential business reopen. Until the state reaches Stage 4, citizens and businesses may have to take precautions to keep the coronavirus from returning.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.