No opening date, guidelines on the horizon for ‘high risk’ businesses

The Canyon Theatre Guild on Main Street in Old Town Newhall.

As the pandemic progresses, more and more businesses have been given the green light to begin reopening. While some businesses have opened — and closed again as reopenings were rolled back — others deemed “high risk” have yet to see any reprieve.

The Canyon Theatre Guild has been producing live theater in the Santa Clarita Valley community for 50 years, though TimBen Boydston, executive artistic director for the nonprofit theater group, says it’s not quite the 50th anniversary celebration the group was planning.

With the theater shut since mid-March, revenues have dropped by 90%, leaving the theater guild to rely on emergency reserves.

“So we’re not going anywhere, but it is very frustrating for us and for all of our patrons that come to the Canyon Theatre Guild to see live theater and enjoy a night out and be entertained,” Boydston added. “That’s something that I’m sure that our members are all missing.” 

While online workshops have given actors an outlet to express themselves and practice, it’s just not the same, Boydston said. 

“The Canyon Theatre Guild is really about live theater,” he added. “Hopefully, we can get the theater back up and running by around Christmas, and we’ll do it sooner if we’re allowed to.” 

As soon as they’re given the green light, Boydston said they’d be able to be up and running within two weeks, producing “Suite Surrender” and “Pride and Prejudice,” two shows that had been just a couple of weeks from opening when the pandemic halted things. 

“The issue and the problem with our business is that we’re in what is known as phase four, so they haven’t even released any guidelines, and we have no idea what they would be expecting,” he said, adding that while they’d be able to distance the audience, he’s unsure how they’d go about doing so for the actors on stage. 

Construction continues on the Laemmle Theatre on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Railroad Avenue in Newhall on Saturday, December 21, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

While construction on the new Laemmle Theatres 6 in Newhall has continued through delays, Greg Laemmle, president of the family-owned business, recently took to social media to clear up rumors of the chain being up for sale.

In a video, Laemmle clarified that it is certain theater properties that are for sale, not the business itself.

“Our goal is to reopen all venues as soon as we are given permission to do so, but whereas in the past, we have been moving in a direction of being both the tenant and the landlord, in some cases now, we’re just going to be back to being just the tenant,” Laemmle said. “Trust me, it’s not ideal, but the alternative is worse.” 

While Laemmle says they were fairly hopeful about being able to schedule some openings, the spike in cases has forced them to re-evaluate.

“Businesses are designed to be open and make money, and when we’re closed for an extended period of time, it’s not feasible,” he added.

In Newhall, the newly built location is on track to open with the rest of the Laemmle Theatres when given the green light to do so. 

“We’re all in this together,” Laemmle said. “Everybody can play a role, so if you want to see a movie at the new theater, start by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing right now. That’s what’s gonna make a difference.” 

Sharon Rojas, co-owner of Lucky Leash, poses with Spiker, a mastiff-shepherd mix, and Lexi, a white lab. Courtesy

Open, but not quite the same

Castaic-based Lucky Leash has provided pet services, such as boarding, grooming and home visits, to the SCV for more than eight years. 

“In the nature of my business, we do have our lows and highs, with summer holidays obviously being our highest moments,” co-owner Sharon Rojas said. “It’s been a very prosperous business, but unfortunately, the situation has made it very difficult for clients to be able to book services, so it’s been very tough.”  

When the majority of her clientele stopped going to work, let alone on vacation, her services became obsolete. Then, when grooming was deemed non-essential, another facet of her business was taken from her. 

“Everything just disappeared,” she said, adding that she co-owns the business with her husband, Fransciso Mercado, meaning that both of their incomes have been impacted. 

Thankfully, the business has been able to survive on essential workers who still are in need of pet-sitting services, Rojas said. 

“We have a lot of military, police and emergency service people in our town, so we’ve been very lucky that those people definitely still need our services,” Rojas said. “So we’ve just survived on these essential workers, and … we’ve been able to stay afloat, but it’s been rough.”

Fransciso Mercado, co-owner of Lucky Leash, trains Jack, a golden-red retriever, and Koa, a German shepherd. Courtesy

In the 37 years Genghis Khan Mongolian BBQ has been open in Newhall, they never expected to have to completely reinvent the way they serve customers. 

“Genghis Khan was primarily a buffet-style restaurant, where people would come in, serve themselves and we would assist them. But, because of the current climate, we had to shut down, as there was almost no way for us to operate at that time,” waiter Jordan Gilchrist said.

Having to think outside of the box, the restaurant used the closure to reimagine its entire dining experience. 

“Since people couldn’t be coming in and using the same utensils to touch all the same food, we decided that we would do it for them, take a little more time just to work with them, see what they needed and help them get the meal that they desire,” Gilchrist added. “So it’s still a build-your-own situation, but you’re using us as a proxy to assemble your bowl for you safely.” 

Like others, the restaurant also did not have an outdoor patio, so they opted to create one and move tables outside so they could reopen for takeout and outdoor dining.

“Given the shutdown a few months ago, we could have handled it in multiple ways, and I think the owner really did a good job of buckling down, using the time to improve the restaurant and seeing it through to reopening as we endure these challenging times,” he said.

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