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San Diego
Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Looking Toward the Rebound

Slowly, ever so slowly, San Diego businesses are beginning to reopen.

County health officials recently gave the OK to let workers into certain “low risk” workplaces. For some, the reprieve came just in time for Mother’s Day gift-giving.

The road ahead is still long. Restaurateurs who have shifted to take-out formats are already planning how they will accommodate guests in their dining rooms, but that might not happen until June or later.

Further down the road will be group events, from the sacred (worship services) to the secular (will the Rolling Stones reschedule?).

In a world where sharing space with more strangers means a greater chance of infection, authorities have broken the process of reopening business to four stages.

Stage 1 is preparedness, where only workers in essential jobs go into the workplace.

Stage 2 will let lower risk sectors — such as small specialty retailers — adapt and reopen.

Stage 3 will let higher risk sectors adapt and reopen. Workplaces include restaurants.

Stage 4 is the ultimate goal, with people in the highest-risk workplaces. This stage will require a vaccine for COVID-19.

Resources Available

So businesses wait and plan. For those wondering where to begin, there are plenty of resources.

One resource available to businesses is a guide called “San Diego Ready: Responsible COVID-19 Economic Reopening (RECOVER),” available on the website of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. It includes four pages of detailed checklists covering several aspects of opening a business. It also includes suggestions for further reading. The document was assembled in conjunction with San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox and regional business, labor and industry leaders.

Separately, on May 14, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a guide for reopening restaurants, schools and offices.

The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. reports that it has been working with a third party consultant to put together an in-depth reference guide to help local restaurants and retail establishments reopen.

“These guides have been tested in focus groups, and align with local, state and national guidance,” said Sarah Lubeck, the EDC’s director of marketing and communications. “We have made it clear that these are reopening guides, and in order to get to this phase, other issues, like childcare, must be addressed first.”

Yearning for Clarity

“I think people are yearning for clarity so they know what they can and can’t do,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

For example, he said regional health officials are calling on employers to take worker temperatures at the beginning of a shift. If that’s not possible, the state wants employers to ask workers about possible symptoms of COVID-19.

“I think that some clarity is needed and I think it’s difficult to get a lot of clarity right now because there’s so many moving parts for the county and for the state,” Sanders said.

“We are creating a thoughtful, phased plan for returning to the workplace,” said Brian Lee, San Diego Region bank president for Wells Fargo. “[W]e will use guidance from health experts to maintain a safe workplace for all employees, including those who have continued to work from the office and those who will be returning to the office over the course of time.

In opening again for sit-down customers, restaurants will have to balance the health needs of back-of-the-house workers with the needs of guests, said Jeff Rossman, president of the San Diego County chapter of the California Restaurant Association. Rossman’s properties include Terra American Bistro on El Cajon Boulevard in the College Area.

Things won’t quite be the same as before, Rossman said, adding that he hopes customers will bear with restaurant owners.

A Low-Risk Endeavor

County health officials recently adopted Stage 2 rules, letting people into “low risk” workplaces. The rules prohibit customers from entering small retail stores but let certain businesses sell at the curbside. Those businesses include bookstores, jewelry stores, toy stores, clothing stores and a variety of other retailers, including florists.

Flowers by Coley in Kearny Mesa moved its merchandise closer to the big windows at the front of its building, giving people a better opportunity window shop, said owner Kristy Weinzimer. She added that the business, which has another store in Orange County, has expanded its delivery area.

A Pause in Browsing

Choosing a greeting card or a piece of jewelry are usually activities that involves browsing. That’s no longer the case at Seaside Papery in Coronado or Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers, which has several locations.

One the Friday before Mother’s Day, Jori Fentiman, served customers from the doorway of her shop, Seaside Papery. Patrons told her what they wanted and she ducked into the little shop to retrieve cards from her sales racks. It’s the way she plans to operate for the foreseeable future.

She recalled one patron telling her “just pick me out 10 birthday cards. It doesn’t matter.”

“In Coronado, it feels like people are going out of their way supporting restaurants and shopping local. … That’s the good news,” said Sue Gillingham, executive director of the Coronado Chamber of Commerce.

The small city has also been offering no-interest $15,000 loans to its small businesses, she said.

Both Weinzimer and Fentiman said they have paid more attention to their online presence since the lockdown. “It’s forced us to get some things online,” Fentiman said.

“Curbside just doesn’t have the ‘jewelry store appeal’ and is a very high security risk,” said Hamel.

Hamel’s shop has a pawn license so was considered a financial institution and an essential business. It has offered limited in-store access and saw clients by appointment.

Hamel stressed the importance of staying connected with customers, a point echoed by Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Cafferty said in his own shopping at Trader Joe’s and Bread and Cie, he saw store staff converse with customers waiting outside, made the wait more tolerable.

With every day that passed, Trader Joe’s got better at engaging with its clientele, he said.

Setting the Tone

The tone of customer service has changed, but that is temporary, said Sanders of San Diego chamber.

“When the retailer’s wearing a mask and the customer’s wearing a mask, it doesn’t really lend itself to long conversations or the same type of relationship,” he said. “I think you can notice that in the supermarket. Maybe it’s been a checker that you’ve known for a long time … and yet it’s a little more brusque now. I don’t think everyone means to do that, but when you’ve got masks and you’ve got Plexiglas between you and you’ve got customers with those 6 foot zones down an aisle, I think it makes it a little more difficult.

“I think we’ll get the hang of it. But it presents a challenge in the customer friendliness side,” he said.

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