A Bit of Normalcy Central Coast businesses slowly reopen amid the pandemic

Alvarado Street Brewery | Photo by Joe Livernois


By Susan Landry

Throughout the lockdown, few services got as much attention as the haircut. Protestors took to the streets demanding the service, and more quietly, called their stylists hoping to score a backyard clip.

“We had those offers, ‘You could come to my house and cut hair or I could come to your house,’ but we were scared of contracting the virus,” said Lelyn Furey, owner of Furey’s Old Town Barber Shop in Salinas. “So none of us did that. We were just sitting at home, scared, watching our funds go away.”

Now, after months of uncertainty, her shop doors are open again and customers are flocking. Like business operators everywhere, Furey is adapting to the new reality.

“We’re so busy we can’t even answer the phones,” she said. “People are excited. They sit down and for them it’s like nothing ever changed at the shop, other than that I’m wearing a mask.”

While things might look normal on the outside, Furey said a lot is happening behind the scenes. In addition to social distancing and providing PPE for herself, her clients and her seven barbers, she must provide extra time between sessions for cleaning and can’t book more than one client per hour. This means each barber can do about six clips per day, as opposed to the usual 12, with double booking completely off limits.

“In our industry, double booking means if you’ve got a three-hour color service, you can squeeze in another two services — either a blowout or a haircut — while the color is processing. So now you have three clients in three hours. We’re not allowed to do that anymore, even if we have the space,” said Furey.

Beard cuts, mustaches, or any services requiring clients to remove their facemasks is also a no-go.

To help cover costs of lost services and sanitation materials, Furey raised prices per haircut from $35 to $45 but said the increase “absolutely doesn’t cover what we’re spending.”

These financial anxieties are a common refrain across industries as businesses start reopening. “There is a lot of concern, many businesses are completely upside down,” said Frank Geisler, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of business owners are barely hanging on to their life savings and their investments. It’s very sobering.”

Rather than weather the storm, many establishments are closing for good. This includes Santa Cruz’s Gilda’s Restaurant and Monterey’s Crazy Horse Restaurant, which provided a no-longer-possible salad bar and buffet, according to staff at the attached Red Lion Hotel.

Restaurateur Soerke Peters also closed Etats-Unis in Carmel, citing the high rent costs and loss of tourist dollars over the summer. Considering these factors, he said running at limited capacity just wasn’t possible.

Mezzaluna, his Pacific Grove pasteria, reopened with a slow start to dine-in service on Saturday. “On Saturday we had maybe 12 dine-in customers, on Sunday maybe 20 and by Monday I think 25, in addition to keeping our to-go business going,” he said.

Mezzaluna stayed open for to-go services throughout shelter-in-place and created a retail program for customers to purchase fresh pastas and sauces to cook at home. Still, Peters said, the restaurant has lost 70 to 80 percent of its usual revenue.

Predicting customer demand is a big question for businesses across the board, leading many to take it slow. “That first day we reopened, we had no idea what to expect so we had three employees come back on for a 120-seat restaurant,” said Wendy Walker, general manager of Alvarado Street Brewery & Bistro, formerly dubbed Yeast of Eden in Carmel. “We ended up getting really busy so we were all running around jamming.”


Alvarado Street Brewery | Photo by Joe Livernois

The Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant is spacious, which allowed staff to reimagine the layout without losing too many tables. Still, Walker said total capacity is down by about 30 to 40 seats, a necessary adjustment to maintain social distancing. On top of that, she said, “an overwhelming amount of handwashing and glove changing” is a must.

MacKenzie Bar & Grill, attached to the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, is opting for a take-it-slow approach, opening the outdoor patio for dine-in service, but holding off on indoor seating for now. So far, MacKenzie’s assistant manager Kristen Doney said business is coming back quickly, both in the restaurant and on the course.

“Our tee sheet has been pretty full,” she said. “I think people are really happy to be out and about — especially with the weather being so nice.”

Blue Aces Bake Shoppe in Salinas chose to keep customers out of its 500-square-foot establishment altogether, instead implementing a table set up by the door and relying heavily on online and call-in orders.

“Everything is so unpredictable and you don’t want to overproduce things. We’re running with limited staff and limited resources,” said shop owner Adrian Jimenez. “If the demand is very high, who knows. But we’ve just got to play with it.”

All sources contacted for this story said that their furloughed or laid-off employees were eager and excited to return to work. Still, Geisler said the chamber is fielding frequent calls from business owners struggling to find employees, even for their limited staffing needs.

“A lot of those employees are no longer here, particularly hospitality employees because this area is very expensive with the cost of living and the cost of housing. So many may have said, ‘Okay, we’re going back to Bakersfield, or Placerville, or wherever they have family. That’s something I hear about a lot,” he said.

Of course, not everything is opening back up just yet. Boulder Creek’s lille æske, a 42-seat music venue and arthouse in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is still waiting for the green light from health officials to resume in-person shows.

In the meantime, owner Anil Prajapati says he’s doing virtual events and opening the art gallery space for socially distanced viewing. So far, the virtual events are drawing crowds of 50 to 75 people each week. A Black Lives Matter virtual event last Sunday drew a crowd of 1,500 people, and the arthouse raised over $700 in donations for Black Lives Matter and the Black Organizing Project.

Despite the success of these virtual events, Prajapati said he’s eager to resume in-person shows.

“Bringing the community together in the space and connecting them with our musicians and artists is the lifeblood of our venue,” he said. “We miss that connection and yearn for the time we can return to that aspect of culture.”

On the consumer side — at least for now — it seems like many Monterey Bay  residents are excited to get out and support their local businesses. “It’s been the least difficult thing to deal with  the guests. Everyone is so understanding and compliant if we say, ‘Hey, sorry, you need to put your face mask on,’ or ‘You need to add some food to your order,’” said Walker. “It’s really amazing. I think everyone is just so thankful to be back in a semi-social environment.”

In addition to socialization, Old Town Barbershop’s Furey said businesses are offering guests a bit of levity and rest in trying times.

“They come in, they sit down and it’s a bit of normalcy. You know, the world is falling apart. There is unrest everywhere. There’s the pandemic, there’s the Black Lives Matter protests happening, the highest unemployment we’ve seen since the depression, the world is literally falling apart. But you can sit down in the chair, we can cut your hair and you feel normal, even if it’s just for a small sliver of time in your day.”

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Susan Landry

About Susan Landry

Susan Landry is a freelance journalist currently living in Capitola. She loves plants, rock climbing, cooking, and almost anything to do with the outdoors. She can be reached at susanamandalandry@gmail.com.