Locals and tourists enjoy weather and local restaurants and shops despite lockdown
The city of Solvang has been back and forth on whether or not it will enforce the regional stay-at-home order for its local businesses, and without a real law enforcement arm, many residents and businesses are just doing what they can to get by.
On Saturday morning, several dozens of locals and tourists gathered to soak in the cool, sunny weather on Copenhagen Drive, forming many lines outside bakeries, restaurants and ice cream parlors.
They enjoyed their bites to eat on public benches and tables spaced far apart.
At Old Danish Fudge Kitchen, managers Don Heiduk and Manuel Santos saw a consistent flow of customers, but nothing near their usual crowd during the holiday season.
“People are, for the most part, a little bit down from usual, but it’s been steady,” Mr. Santos told the News-Press.
“Traffic-wise, this time of year, it’s down 25%,” Mr. Heiduk told the News-Press. “Between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s usually one of the busiest weeks of the entire year, and definitely the numbers aren’t the same.”
However, the to-go nature of Fudge Kitchen allows them to stay open and operate with their regular hours.
Red Viking Restaurant drew a line of hungry visitors on Saturday as well, and Manager Norma Quintero echoed that business is quite a bit slower, especially at this time of year.
“Weekends for sure get busy, but it’s nothing compared to how it was before,” Ms. Quintero told the News-Press. “There’s definitely a lot less business.”
Many customers decided to take their takeout order from Red Viking and eat it on one of the public tables on Copenhagen Drive. According to Ms. Quintero, that’s been a common theme since the lockdown.
“In fact, they take our tables and put them across the street,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot of people that go for that.”
At Solvang Flavors, a crêperie with authentic Italian gelato, owners Chris and Amanda Combs have seen a steady flow of foot traffic, as well.
“Business has been OK,” Mr. Combs told the News-Press. “The first initial week was slow, with one or two people outside filming the streets because there was nobody there, but we’re starting to pick back up. We’re still down probably 25%.”
However, he and his wife said they felt discouraged with all the changing rules.
“Probably the most frustrating thing, honestly, is the lack of continuity to the whole thing,” Mr. Combs said. “There’s so much confusion around, ‘Are we able to sit? Are we not able to sit?’ One day the city was like, ‘OK cool, you can open,’ but then the new mayor comes in and says no.”
The co-owner referenced Michael Cherney, the owner of peasants FEAST in Solvang, who got a warning for dining in his own restaurant with his family and a few of his close employees.
“Some of the people in town that did get fines — it was in the midst of being told, ‘Yes you can be open,’ and, ‘No, you can’t,’” Mr. Combs said. “How are they supposed to be the ones to plan for that?”
He said he’s personally contacted the health department a couple times to try to better understand the guidelines.
“We don’t know what guidelines we’re supposed to be under, so we’re just going on our own,” he said. “The restaurants are supposed to be responsible for policing whether people sit or where they sit or how they should eat their food — it’s just sort of ridiculous.
“The agencies responsible for sending out this information aren’t actually getting it to the restaurants and then restaurants are getting fined for orders they didn’t even know about. Within 24 hours, the rules changed like three times. How can we legitimately enforce that?”
Solvang Flavors opened in 2018 had to close down for three and a half months during the worst of the pandemic, but Mr. Combs said overall, he’s still optimistic.
“It’s just the unknown. When you’re going years back trying to project sales and things like that, all of it’s out the window now,” he said. “October is usually a slow month for us, but we did really well. It’s hard to really say, but we made it through this year, so…”
Mrs. Combs echoed her husband’s sentiments as well.
“People are realizing that it is ridiculous and that they can’t actually physically do this and this and this,” she told the News-Press. “That messes with their psyche… At one point they have to say, ‘This is crazy. How can we live life going forward like this?’”
She added that she believes the Santa Ynez Valley has been careful enough to be able to continue running some businesses.
“I feel like everyone has been mindful of everything, especially here in the Valley. I’m proud of our Valley and everything we’ve done.”