As California grapples with the balance between public health and economic recovery, businesses across the state are beginning to reopen with new regulations. Many business owners are finding that reopening is a lot harder than shutting down; the road back to normal is filled with red flags, red tape and a lot of red ink.
Santa Cruz business owner Zachary Davis speaks with pride about his ice cream parlor. He is proud of the ice cream, but he is especially delighted by the joy it brings his customers. For Davis, the Penny Ice Creamery on Cedar Street and his other eateries are not just ways to make a living, they are his life.
“Just hoping to make people happy through food and through connecting them to their community,” Davis said while describing his three businesses.
When the pandemic hit, he had to close up shop. For the first time, he and his business partner had to face the real possibility that their 10 years of risk taking and hard work could end in bankruptcy.
“I don't even want to go into the implications of what that could mean for myself, my family, our employees, my business partner and her family. It was beyond scary,” he said.
As Davis and his business partner navigate the road back, they are finding it’s complicated. Restaurants, which already deal with health safety laws, now face new regulations.
“We have health orders that reference previous health orders that reference previous health orders and, you know, you almost have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of what's going on to really be able to synthesize it all,” Davis said.
A group formed by the Santa Cruz County Community Foundation is helping Davis and other business owners sort things out.
“So, we've started our Economic Recovery Council, which is a group of Main Street, you know, small business owners, brick and mortar,” said Susan True, chief executive officer of the foundation.
The Foundation works with business networks and health officials to figure out how they can apply all the advice locally.
The challenge is balance: employee and customer safety on the one hand, economic recovery on the other.
“People who want to work can't work. And at the same time, if we're careless about that and we reopen inappropriately, unsafely, then we'll just get shut down again because there will be another outbreak,” True said.
Like much of the state, Santa Cruz County has seen a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. The road back to normal is not a day trip.
“Many businesses are working so hard just to continue to pay their employees’ health insurance and to try to hang on to customers that they are hoping will come in 2021,” said True.
It’s not just the local customers. The county’s economy depends on tourism, which brought in over $1 billion last year, according to Visit Santa Cruz County. Convincing those tourists to come back is another challenge. But after nearly 4 months of shelter in place, there is some reason for hope.
“People are wanting to get out,” said Christina Glynn with Visit Santa Cruz County. “Americans estimate that the distance of their next road trip will be right around four hundred and twenty-three miles.,” Glynn said about recent surveys.
And that’s just perfect.
“Our primary market is Central Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento. Anyone within a three-hour drive,” Glynn said.
Visit Santa Cruz County just launched a new advertising campaign called “Let’s Cruz Again.” It emphasizes the county’s attractions while reminding travelers to wear a mask and socially distance. Glynn says the focus is safety.
“Businesses have upgraded cleanliness practices, installed plexiglass around check-in desks, suspended breakfast buffets, mandated face coverings for employees and guests, and installed signage that ensures that social distancing is being practiced,” she said.
At the Penny Ice Creamery, social distancing markers line the sidewalk outside. Zachary Davis reflects on all that has happened since the shutdown. He says he appreciates the support his business has received on its road back to reopening. And he hopes he has given back a little joy to his customers.
“If there's one thing that I would like to feel like we're doing is trying to provide a little bit of normalcy with the ice cream and a treat and something that can kind of be transported, at least for a moment,” said Davis.
A taste of normal times on the road to recovery.