Napa business leaders tackle the road to reopening, recovery from coronavirus restrictions
What is the best path forward for reigniting Napa County’s economy as soon as possible?
That is the question aiming to be solved by the Countywide Business Advisory Group, an offshoot of the Napa Chamber of Commerce formed last month. The group is tasked with developing guidance and rules for businesses to reopen and for economic recovery. It has about 30 members, including 18 leaders from each business sector — all working with health and government officials, chambers and business operators.
“We are a big facilitator and we’re trying to be an informational portal,” said Michael Murray, group board chair and chief financial officer of Napa Recycling and Waste Services. “That’s the biggest part, because people are just confused and they get a lot of misinformation. So we’re trying to get some clarity and help the county (with) their rules. This is brand new for them, as for everyone.”
What businesses want most, of course, is to reopen ASAP. But hurrying isn’t the answer, as two Napa businesses deemed nonessential recently found out the hard way.
Fumé Bistro & Bar and Quent Cordair Fine Art gallery swung their doors open earlier this month before getting government clearance — which they still don’t have. Both have since been forced to go dark again.
“The term I use a lot is ‘patience,’ and it’s hard,” Murray said. “But I think a lot of these businesses need to step back and really say, ‘my main premise is the safety of my employees and the safety of the consumer.’”
Still, some business owners, particularly in high-touch sectors, are finding it tough to stay in idle mode.
“I know a lady that’s now doing hairdressing at people’s homes,” Murray said, adding the woman adheres to wearing a mask and gloves. “A lot of businesses are on edge and probably not well before this, and this probably was the big tipping point that was going to throw them in a bad area.”
Attorney Kevin Teague, who is responsible for the professional services sector of the countywide group, said much of the group’s thinking in these early stages involves brainstorming ways to work more efficiently, such as streamlining and expediting the permit and review process.
“My focus, as part of the team, is that one of the key ways of dealing with an economic crisis is construction, whether it’s infrastructure or other things,” Teague said. “That’s often a catalyst in economic downturns. So it would be like killing two birds with one stone: help the local businesses and get construction moving more quickly in those places that are appropriate.”
Teague, a founder and partner of Holman Teague Roche Anglin, LLP, focuses his practice on land-use and environmental law, assisting clients with navigating the regulatory and political processes to obtain entitlements.
Another area of his expertise that he’s contributing to the advisory group is examining ways for businesses to restructure payment of fees and services with the government.
“It’s not necessarily getting rid of fees, but maybe a more structured payment over time so we’re all feeling that pain together versus a big hit that someone may not be able to survive,” Teague said. “All ideas are on the table.”
They’re also thinking about practical matters around social distancing, since no one knows how long that will last.
“Do we work with the city to open up parking lots or other spaces so restaurant service or other services can do business outside, rather than go through the six-month process to get a temporary permit?” he said. “We’re kind of spit-balling these ideas at this stage.”
Teague said he finds it refreshing that everyone involved shares the attitude that all ideas are welcome.
“I will say, working with the government agencies as I do … there’s a real openness to discussion that we’re in this together, which is really a refreshing thing for business,” he said. “I don’t know how long that’s going to last necessarily, but it’s refreshing right now.”
Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4259.