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June 10, 2020

Reopening isn’t going to be easy. Businesses that are opening their doors after three months of lockdown now have to implement detailed guidelines, incurring costs for sanitizer, masks, and signage while admitting fewer customers. Customers who might or might not be willing to break habits formed during lockdown are learning new post-lockdown rules in order to shop, eat out, play, or worship.

And it’s not just in the U.S. The WSJ has an article this morning, “Moving to Reopen, Europe Goes Into Regulatory Overdrive.” (link below). It starts with the owner of a pizzeria facing 100 pages of post-lockdown rules. During lockdown we were advised to shop on line and have groceries delivered. We substituted FaceTime and Zoom for real-people visits. Will we go back to shopping when it means walking cautiously around masked strangers?

Thanks to reports from my friends and family, here is an update on the reopening scene in Southern California today. Remember, whether or not you regard a function as “essential,” these are businesses which people depend on for their livelihood. Consider it a snapshot for the history books, because personally I don’t think this phase will last long.

Barnes & Noble: Wear a mask. The in-store Starbucks is open, but all the chairs are gone. You can browse through the books, pick one up, and leaf through it and put it back on the shelf (according to one source) or you have to put it into a basket, presumably to be cleaned and reshelved (different B&N, different source). The checkout desk has a plastic partition and you hold up your book’s barcode to be scanned. They won’t give you a paper receipt (want to email it instead) for safety reasons, but they have no problem giving you a paper coupon for Starbucks.

Bevmo: The entrance is blocked by a table. You stand outside in a socially-distanced line. The customer in front asked for a particular wine, the sales clerk went to look for it, couldn’t find it, and came back to ask for a second choice and went to get that. Next in line, my son asked for two variety packs of Sculpin IPA. The sales clerk got it, then pulled the table back, so he could walk in to pay (masked), and when he left, they pushed the table back across the entrance. (Sounds like a store badly in need of an app).

Sign says haircuts only. No shampoos, blow-drys, beard trims, and no public restroom.

Great Clips (haircuts) is more automated. You make an appointment on the app, which tells you how long it will be. On the first day they were open the wait was about 2 hours. But you can wait at home. You drive to the store when your time is close and check in at the door. Wait outside socially distanced until you are called (on your phone). Only people cutting hair or getting haircuts are inside, wearing masks of course. You pay the person who cut your hair directly. The price has gone up 10%.

My hair stylist: She rents a room in a strip-mall suite, so only the two of us were in the room. It was nice to see her again. We both wore masks. Everything else was normal. We had a lot to talk about. Believe me, talking to a real person is so much nicer than talking to a screen. Even if they have a mask on.

Graduation: A nearby intermediate school celebrated eighth-grade graduation yesterday. Banners and balloons were up and music playing as families drove slowly through the parking lot with their graduate and people waved and cheered and handed them a tropical shaved ice. Traditional graduation businesses must having a hard year–think announcements and invitations, caps and gowns, leis, restaurants, and hotels.

Ophthamologist: Masked people waited together in the waiting room where each available chair was separated by two chairs turned toward the wall. This whole issue of waiting is fascinating. Some places have you wait outside or in your car until called. This was the first place I heard about that actually uses a waiting room these days.

Volleyball: SoCal Volleyball got permission to start practices this week. They have a detailed reopening protocol and a good orientation video on their web site. Some of the rules are: Enter one at a time, spaced apart. Temperature screening, hand sanitizer, and mask before entering the gym. Don’t bring anything inside except a water bottle. Use sanitizer at break. Wear a mask at all times in the gym except when actually playing volleyball. No spectators at this time, but games will have live streaming. 

The Beach: Not a business, but an attraction many businesses rely on and a significant part of SoCal life. Oceanside last Sunday: quite a few people on the beach, but distanced. Newport Beach yesterday: People there too with their toes in the sand, and I’m a little jealous.

Everyone is feeling their way to find the best way to open. Among the uncertainties signs of tension emerge. For example:

  1. Orange County’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, resigned Monday after her requirement to wear masks in public was met with harsh criticism and even threats.
  2. Manicurists: Also Monday manicurists staged a protest at the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster because they have not been allowed to open yet. This too is a business which people depend on to support their families and they too need to open.
  3. Headlines announce that we are officially in a recession. The news is full of closings and bankruptcies.

Southern California — not as regulated as Italy or Belgium, but more regulated than some of the other states. People are working hard to get their lives and businesses back in the post-lockdown world. And the question now is: Will the customers come?

Post-lockdown Headlines:

“Orange County public health officer resigns in coronavirus controversy,” Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2020. https://news.yahoo.com/orange-county-public-health-officer-173755364.html

“California Nail Salon Owners Beg To Reopen Amid Coronavirus,” Patch, June 8, 2020. https://patch.com/california/lakeforest-ca/nail-salons-protest-ongoing-coronavirus-closure-oc

“Moving to Reopen, Europe Goes Into Regulatory Overdrive,” Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/moving-to-reopen-europe-goes-into-regulatory-overdrive-11591715947

“Europe Reopens Borders Amid Worst Global Recession in Memory,” US News and World Report, June 10, 2020. https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2020-06-10/europe-reopens-borders-amid-worst-global-recession-in-memory

“And You Thought Malls Were in Trouble Before,” Bloomberg, June 10, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-06-10/coronavirus-clothing-retail-shopping-is-in-trouble

“Are more store closings coming? As many as 25,000 stores could shutter in 2020 due to COVID-19 impact,” USA Today, June 9, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/06/09/store-closures-2020-coronavirus-impact/5325795002/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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