More North Bay retailers allowed to reopen after 2 months coronavirus lockdown; restaurants maybe in a few weeks

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For the first time in more than two months, local florists as of Friday morning can sell their fresh flowers, bookstores and other retailers can open for curbside pickup, and auto dealers can do more than repair cars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced details about guidance and modifications that would come with the reopening of certain sectors in the early stage of phase two, which includes related manufacturing and logistics businesses.

Today’s openings do not include offices, seated dining at restaurants, shopping malls or offices, the latter required to continue operating remotely. Newsom on Thursday suggested he may reopen restaurants for seated dining within a couple of weeks.

“It’s critical that businesses and employers understand how they can reduce the risk of transmission and better protect their workers and customers,” Newsom said. “COVID-19 will be present in our communities until there is a vaccine or therapeutic, and it will be up to all of us to change our behavior and eliminate opportunities for the disease to spread.”

For Marie Krick, floral designer and owner of Laurel and Vine in Novato, reopening allows her to jump on the chance to sell and deliver flowers for Mother’s Day, just two days away.

“My main business is wedding and events, and it’s rough not being able to do that, but I’m really grateful for the opportunity to open back up again,” she said. “I can start exploring other options of how to make more offerings to the general public, like maybe offering DIY flower-kit delivery and more deliveries like the Mother’s Day offerings.”

That auto dealerships can resume selling cars is a relief to Henry Hansel, president of Hansel Auto Group, who said business in the second half of March and all of April was “terrible.”

“When you can’t sell cars, which is a significant part of our income, we took a dramatic hit,” Hansel said. Since about mid-April, he’s seen more customers coming in for service and showing interest in buying cars again, which he has gauged both by website and foot traffic. “Let’s say we went from 50% of pre-COVID activity to where we’re now about 75%, so there’s a nice improvement.”

Hansel said the showroom is now set up with desk dividers between employees and customers, “everyone is wearing masks and there’s sanitation supplies everywhere.”

He’s also letting customers take cars on test drives without a sales representative.

“Typically we would, but we will allow them to test drive the car (on their own) because that’s really the reason they probably came in in the first place, to make sure it’s right for them,” Hansel said.

The green light for bookstores also is welcome, though many in the North Bay area previously told the Business Journal they had already implemented curbside delivery of some sort before the governor’s relaxing of retail restrictions.

Now, many bookstore owners and managers are awaiting the day when book enthusiasts can walk in the door.

Napa Bookmine owner Naomi Chamblin is already in preparation mode.

“We’re waiting a bit longer to start letting people in by appointment,” she said. Her hours have expanded to a 5 p.m. closing, instead of 2 p.m.

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Book Passage owner Elaine Petrocelli is relying on phone orders to keep her Corte Madera and San Francisco stores going.

Four-eyed Frog Books General Manager Joel Crockett placed a table out in front of his Gualala store to deliver orders to provide a connection with the community, which he said has always been strong.

Bike shops in Sonoma County reopened Monday after the revised shelter-in-place directive late last week allowed the sector to begin resuming operations, according to the Press Democrat.

At the Bike Peddler on College Avenue in Santa Rosa, manager Chris Wells started off by allowing five people at a time into the store. One customer objected to waiting outside, and took his business elsewhere, he said. “But for the most part, everyone’s been pretty civil.”

Newsom said Thursday that some counties may be able to move more quickly through phase two if they can prove they meet the state’s readiness criteria. Those counties are required to submit a readiness plan, which the state will make publicly available, he said.

Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties are currently operating within Newsom’s state guidelines.

However, in Napa, two businesses deemed nonessential defied county orders and reopened, including Quent Cordair Fine Art gallery and Fumé Bistro & Bar, the latter of which reopened Monday but succumbed to pressure and shut down again on Wednesday, according to the Napa Valley Register.

Marin County is part of the Bay Area’s six-county region, which includes Berkeley, that lifted some business restrictions on Monday. The sectors that reopened were primarily outdoor businesses, including construction companies, nurseries, landscaping and gardening operations. Restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating are not included, according to a press release from the region’s public health officials.

Staff Writer Susan Wood contributed to this report.

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