Reopening businesses reveal what operating under new COVID-19 guidelines look like -- COVID-19 Diaries

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Bay Area counties, to varying degrees, have allowed hair and nail salons, gyms, retail stores, hotels/leisure travel, and movie theaters to reopen with restrictions. For this edition of COVID-19 Diaries, we speak with owners, operators, and employees across the Bay Area to see what these new changes look like as they prepare to reopen.

Hair Salons

For over three months, Beauty Lounge and Wine Bar, with two locations in Walnut Creek, has been forced closed by the coronavirus pandemic. After Contra Costa County lifted its restrictions on hair salons last week, it's back in business, but with significant changes-and significant extra costs.

"Changes cost in the thousands of dollars," says Beauty Lounge owner Noemi Woods. "In the 30 years I've owned a business, I've been through everything. Nothing has affected me the way this COVID-19 has."

Temperature checks will be required for every customer, along with waivers releasing Beauty Lounge of any liability. Customers must text their hairstylist before they arrive. Hairstylists will wear masks, face guards, and disposable plastic aprons. Blow dries will no longer be offered, to avoid potential spreading of coronavirus. High-touch surfaces and tools will be constantly cleaned and disinfected. Despite the extra operating costs due to COVID-19, Beauty Lounge says it will not increase its prices.

"We're just thankful that...are coming back and they're excited to see us just as much as we're excited to see them," says hairstylist Andrea May Iglesias.

Hotels

Sonoma County has allowed hotels, campgrounds, and short-term rentals to reopen with restrictions. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa is making the necessary preparations so it can open on July 1, including a new 48-hour "resting period" for hotel rooms.

"We strip the room and let it rest for 48 hours before we check the next guest in," explains Edward Roe, Fairmont's general manager.

Arriving guests will have their luggage exterior sanitized, and will be met with a paper seal on their room door guaranteeing no one else has entered the room during that time. Guests will also receive amenity kits with fask masks, hand sanitizer and wipes, and will be encouraged to wear their masks whenever they are outside their hotel room.

Room service and valet service has been suspended, and the spa will remain closed until further guidance from Sonoma County is issued. The pool will be open, however, with lounge chairs spaced 6 feet between them, as well as private cabanas for families.

"We know it's hurting our business financially short-term," Roe says regarding the new COVID protocols. "But we are true believers that the long-term it is the right thing to do, because then the guests will have the confidence to know that staying with us was a safe thing to do."

Gyms

"I'm more anxious than excited. It's going to be different, and a walk into the unknown," says American Barbell Clubs owner Jerry McCall. He's awaiting Santa Clara County's go-ahead to reopen his four locations in the area, but don't expect his gyms to adhere to all rules set by the county or others in his industry.

"The recommendations, we'll abide by a lot of them, but some of them are unmanageable," McCall laments. "Some of the club chains say, 'We're going to be open for an hour, and then close every hour for cleaning.' You'd have fights at your front door!"

"We don't want to micromanage people too heavily," McCall explains. "We want to let people's adult instincts take over, but we will keep an eye on things." McCall has added sanitizing spray and paper towel stations across his gyms for his customers to use on gym equipment, and has closed off every other cardio machine to maintain social distance. The gyms will have a mask policy when customers enter and exit the gyms, and McCall encourages his clients to keep their masks on while they work out.

"The idea that they're going to be asphyxiated from wearing their mask is kind of nonsensical," McCall quips.

Movie Theaters

California is allowing movie theaters to reopen in counties that can certify the spread of COVID-19 is under control. As of this writing, Alameda County is not ready-which is just fine with Allen Michaan, owner of the historic Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland.

"Personally, I will probably be one of the last theaters to open and not jump the gun because I want safety," Michaan explains. Since major Hollywood studios are delaying its big releases, Michaan also reasons it won't be worthwhile to open any time soon.

The state's recommendations for movie theaters, like reducing theater capacity to 25 percent, online reservation systems for seats and concessions, and covering seats with disposable covers for every showing, makes Michaan wonder if he could ever break even with these rules in place.

"We might be better off waiting," Michaan says. "The question is, is it going to be this summer, or this Christmas, or next summer? I don't know."

Retail Stores

Alameda County has allowed retail stores to reopen. Queen Hippie Gypsy in downtown Oakland, touted as the town's "first Black-owned crystal botanica," was preparing for its reopening until looters smashed its storefront after Black Lives Matter protests on May 29.

"If folks were only here for Black Lives Matter, they would have not damaged the windows," says owner Lilly Ayers, who posted an emotional video on Instagram Live the morning after the incident, detailing the damage to her followers. Instead of boarding up her storefront, Ayers left the windows as-is, as a silent protest against those who violated Black-owned businesses in Oakland.

With the urging of her community, Ayers launched a GoFundMe, which quickly raised over $30,000 to cover the storefront damage and costs related to COVID-19 regulations. Besides the usual measures-strict customer/employee mask policy, extra sanitizing, limiting in-store headcount-Ayers realized her skills as a healer would provide an extra degree of safety for her customers.

"We are absolutely thinking 'no-touch' of any of the merchandise," Ayers says. "Folks give us what they're looking for, what their intentions are, and we can guide them to the stone they need without ever touching a stone."

Queen Hippie Gypsy plans a full reopening in time for its 2nd anniversary in early July.
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