How businesses adjust to opening up

Maintenance crew member Berta Ortiz, left, cleans the one of the customer safety shields as Sales Manger Kabir Bahroos, center, Internet Director Drew Katigbak, and Internet Manager Belen Gonzales, right, prepare for customers at Frontier Toyota in Valencia on Thursday, May 07, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Chairs stacked on top of tables that have been pushed far from the entrance at restaurants. Hand sanitizer dispensers strategically installed at workstations and face coverings now donned along with uniforms. 

This is the new normal businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley have recently or will soon apply, as California and Los Angeles County ease their lockdown restrictions that have kept millions at home and workplaces temporarily shut down in an effort to help limit the spread of COVID-19. 

In Old Town Newhall, restaurants and other small businesses depend on each other to thrive, with Main Street attracting visitors from in and around the SCV to shop, grab a bite and drink and enjoy a live show at a local theater. 

But that momentum has completely upended, leaving Old Town Newhall resembling a ghost town. Today, much of the foot traffic comes from delivery workers dropping off orders or customers picking up.

Among the businesses adjusting to change is Old Town Junction, known as a sit-down, take-your-time eatery, which is thanking the community for supporting them throughout its transition. 

“We’re a sit-down, hang-out and enjoy your 2-hour meal kind of place and so this switch has been a really humbling experience to see how the community has switched gears to support us and allow us to keep feeding them,” said General Manager Mandy Meeks. 

“Realistically, that’s why you go into the restaurant business, because you love the human experience and having that little bit of connection with them taken away because of the virus is so difficult. So, it’s nice to still see people come in when they get their orders.” 

With dine-in options still prohibited amid the “Safer at Home” county order, the restaurant has, like many others, put away their chairs and tables to create a larger and more spacious area for customers to wait in line for their orders while adhering to physical distancing measures. Old Town Junction has also installed hand sanitizer stations, ordered masks for all employees that include the restaurant’s logo and is preparing protocols, such as not setting up tables and bringing silverware as needed when dine-in options are permitted. 

Despite ever-changing lockdown restrictions, with some regulations easing faster than others across the state and county and with Santa Clarita looking to reopen faster than other communities, Meeks said safety measures will still remain in place and businesses must be ready as more people return to work and customers begin to shop more freely. 

General Manager Bob Corson, left, and Sales Consultants Bien Tarroza Jr. and Genardo Calzadillas stand next to a plastic customer safety shield as they prepare for customers at Frontier Toyota in Valencia on Thursday, May 07, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signalr customer

Over in the Valencia Auto Center, the car shopping experience has changed, according to Frontier Toyota General Manager Bob Corson. 

“Test driving alone has changed. They’re done with only one customer and with one sales representative seated behind for everyone’s safety,” he said. 

And in their showrooms and sales locations, which were only recently allowed to reopen in early May, car dealerships look a little different: There are plexiglass guards between masked and gloved customers and employees, an updated layout to provide sufficient distance between all those inside the buildings and enhanced sanitizing of anything anyone frequently touches, such as doorknobs, countertops and the cars themselves. 

While sales have been low among several sectors, dealerships have seen an increase in their service department. 

“(Service) is picking up because more people are home and taking this opportunity to get their oil changed or other service needs. There’s also very important recalls that need to be addressed but often people don’t find the time,” said Corson. 

Ahead of several others, Frontier Toyota in Valencia has implemented online orders and deliveries, which Corson said, “the timing (of online services) is amazing” to help businesses continue and keep customers safe. 

And while many businesses today have seen an easier transition with online options to continue sales and services, not everyone has benefitted but they are making it work as restrictions ease. Among them is Rocket Fizz, a retailer with a selection of candy and bottled sodas in the hundreds, on Main Street in Newhall. 

“Some stuff is online but really we have hundreds of items for selection so it’s not possible to have it all and do curbside pickup,” said owner Greg Stoddard. 

The store, which saw a 40% drop in sales within the first month of the lockdown order and is now facing a 60% drop, is hoping to see a gradual increase in sales as more restrictions are lifted and more people return to Main Street.

While post-Safer at Home communities will still look different from pre-COVID-19 times, businesses said they are prioritizing the safety of their customers and workers over marketing and profit despite the financial shortfalls, of which the city of Santa Clarita has projected an estimated $10 million in revenue loss. 

“We did not want to in the marketing business amid the pandemic. The priority is the safety and wellness of our staff and customers,” said Corson. “We certainly understand the (public’s) concerns. We believe that we have gone above and beyond to make them feel safe. We, as a community, have shown over the past couple of years how we can unite and come out stronger and we will again through this crisis.” 

“As a restaurant and local business, we are doing our part to keep our guests safe — that is our priority,” said Meeks, adding that Old Town Junction has also been providing customers with groceries amid the pandemic. “We can do this; we can figure this out. I’m really confident in just seeing the community lean on each other and I think this will be an area where we will shine in.” 

While COVID-19 developments continue and much uncertainty still remains, many more businesses will soon receive the green light to reopen but they will have to adhere to several requirements establishments issued by the county. Here’s a brief look into the reopening protocol: 

Businesses currently allowed to reopen

Under amended orders from the county’s Department of Public Health, officials have allowed additional “lower-risk” businesses to reopen so far as they meet the county’s safety criteria.

Among those permitted to reopen include all retail shops that can offer curbside, outside and door-side pickup or delivery services, including indoor mall stores. Manufacturing, warehousing and logistics that supply to lower-risk shops can open. Those previously allowed to open, such as bookstores, florists and essential shops like grocery stores can remain in operation. 

Gyms, theaters, bars, salons and barbershops remain closed under county orders. 

Protocol to reopen 

Workplace policies to protect employees

Anyone who can conduct their work duties from home should be directed to do so, especially vulnerable staff. 

All employees must be told to stay home if they are sick. 

An employer should inform workers if one or more employees test positive for COVID-19 and should have a plan in place for the case(s) to self-isolate and for all those exposed to self-quarantine. 

Workers are offered face coverings at no cost and must be worn at all times during the shift when in contact or likely to come in contact with others. Masks are not required when an employee is alone in an office or a walled cubicle. 

Measures to ensure physical distancing

If the site-entry space permits, customers are directed to one of two lines at the door: one for pickup of pre-ordered items, and one for on-site orders. 

For establishments that offer onsite ordering, customers must remain in their vehicles or return in 15 minutes to obtain orders. 

Measures for infection control 

Contactless payment systems are in place or, if not feasible, payment systems are sanitized regularly.

Customers are instructed that they must wear a face covering to receive service. Those with medical conditions that make use of a mask hazardous are exempted. 

For a complete look at the county’s protocol for retailers, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/docs/protocols/Reopening-Retail.pdf. 

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