State Street businesses not shocked by county’s demotion to purple tier
Santa Barbara County was demoted to the purple, more restrictive tier as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, and local businesses are forced to take one step back and remove their indoor operations once again.
Retail stores are back to a 25% capacity limit, and bars and breweries must serve food to outdoor diners to remain open.
Many restaurant and bar owners on State Street said they were not shocked by the news of the return to the purple tier due to rising COVID-19 cases and neighboring counties also being demoted.
“We’re not shocked at all,” Brianna Cason, a manager at Institution Ale Company in the 500 block of State Street, told the News-Press. “We pay attention closely to our neighboring counties like Ventura and San Luis Obispo, so we just knew it was a matter of time before it would happen.”
While the Health Officer Order didn’t go into effect until late Tuesday, employees at Institution Ale Company removed their indoor tables Tuesday morning in an effort to remind people to eat outside.
“Winter in general is our slower season, but I think we’ll definitely see some loss in business,” Ms. Cason said. “I’m a little worried about going back to outdoor dining, only because I think everybody was definitely excited to move indoors and move in that direction.”
She added that the brewery is hoping to install more heaters outside to accommodate outdoor diners.
John Nasser, the owner of Night Lizard Brewing Company in the 600 block of State Street, said employees have noticed that most people who want to go have a drink only sit inside if they have to, with the only exception being a football game on TV inside.
“I’m not surprised. I think we’re in for a tough winter,” he told the News-Press. “I don’t really think things are going to turn around until the vaccine comes out.”
He said he already bought a couple more patio heaters, but they prevent him from putting a tent over his deck which would be useful when the rainy season comes.
“I’ve got my locals to protect me who come in — they know everybody’s having a hard time,” Mr. Nasser continued. “The promenade has helped a lot. If that hadn’t happened, it would be worse than it is now.”
However, the owner said that mask compliance has practically become muscle memory for customers, and he still has space for 58 customers out front and 24 in the parking lot out back as a last resort.
“What I’d like to see in this town is, we’re all only going to come out of the back end of this if we work together,” Mr. Nasser said. “There’s going to be four really slow months here. If we could just work together, if there was a way we could relieve some of the financial stress and create some opportunities for businesses to stay afloat…”
The general manager of Joe’s Cafe in State Street’s 500 block, Joey Somerville, also said he wasn’t surprised by the move back to the purple tier.
“We were optimistic that we would keep improving, but it seems like the numbers have been going up steadily in the nation,” he told the News-Press. “It was just a matter of time before California started to get hit again. We weren’t surprised — we were just hopeful.”
He said that Joe’s Cafe is fortunate to have a nice outdoor table set up with many tables, but the winter will likely affect them like every other business.
“We’re only in November. When it’s down to the 50s and 60s, even if you have heaters, I mean that’s what we’re dealing with,” Mr. Somerville said. “The rain will be a challenge, so we’re thinking of different ways of anticipating the rainy season and seeing what we can do about it.”
The general manager added that mask compliance has improved since the reopening of restaurants, but employees can see groups on the street just carrying their masks.
“The idea is to have the mask on, especially when State Street is crowded,” he said. “We’ve had better responses from the locals. They seem to get it, but we get a little bit of pushback from the out of towners.”
Not all businesses are entirely impacted by the more restrictive guidance, though.
Minesh Kantaira owns Sunglass Brands International in the 700 block of State Street, and he said the nature of the store actually benefited from the closure of the street.
“I don’t think it changes much for us,” he told the News-Press. “Business is down, but California traffic is higher.”
According to the store owner, only 10% of its business is local, and it mostly caters to tourists or other visitors who lost or forgot their sunglasses. Without tourists, business goes down, but more Santa Barbara residents walk past the store because of the State Street promenade.
“Business is actually higher if you don’t count the 40% European visitors coming in the summer,” Mr. Kantaira said. “Overall, we’ve been up a couple of months or down a couple of months.”
The store must remain at 25% capacity, but the owner said it hasn’t been much of a problem.
To learn more about the Health Officer Order, visit www.publichealthsbc.org.