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The Facebook posts by Baddeley’s Pourhouse in Long Beach say it all.
On Friday, June 19: “Grand Reopening, today!”
And on Monday, June 29: “We are closing again temporarily. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
It’s not easy to keep up these days.
After reopening only about a week earlier, Derf Batshon, bar manager at Baddeley’s at 3348 E. Broadway, found himself caught in a frantic reverse-course cycle as he tried to peddle back following the state and county order saying that bars not serving food must now re-close due to rising COVID-19 cases.
“It’s literally depressing and frustrating,” Batshon said, who included on his post that closing again was the “right thing to do” considering the latest stats.
But still … heartbreaking.
“I’m trying to keep my owners happy and the crew happy,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “I’m calling all the vendors and all my people to tell them ‘Let’s pause.’ I have to figure out the payroll.”
The abrupt turnaround announced Sunday had bar owners and local chamber of commerce officials alike in a tailspin the next morning.
“I think the people making these policies need to understand they just can’t be opening and reclosing businesses,” said Tom Flavin, CEO of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce. “Restaurants and bars operate on very slim margins.”
Sandy Marchioli said she’s among the lucky ones. She owns Godmother’s Saloon, an iconic, 50-plus-year-old waterfront-adjacent bar at 302 W. Seventh St. in downtown San Pedro where scenes from “This is Us,” “CSI” and “Dexter” have been filmed.
She’d already applied for a partnership with a restaurant across the street, Sebastian’s Mediterranean Cuisine, and is hopeful a menu will be in place allowing the bar to re-open — yet again — on Wednesday, July 1.
“It’s very upsetting,” she said of finally being able to open nine days ago but having to close again so soon.
She had to return 14 kegs of beer along with expired bottled beers after having to close down for so long.
“Beer companies are losing tremendous amounts of money from all the expired beer in places that had to close down,” Marchioli said.
On Sunday, Los Angeles County reported its second-highest number of coronavirus cases in one day, 2,542.
The news Monday was even worse.
Health officials reported 2,903 new cases, shattering the previous single-day record and pushing the state’s total over 100,000 cases.
The sharp increase in weekend cases along with hospitalizations prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to order bars be shut in L.A. and six other counties.
By Sunday night, Los Angeles County Public Health officials said they’d heed the order.
Los Angeles County health officials said Monday that without a dramatic reversal in public behavior to control the virus “we will see a lot more deaths” and possibly run short of hospital beds in a matter of weeks, it was reported in a City News Service article.
On average, health officials estimate that one in every 140 people in Los Angeles County is now infected with COVID-19 and capable of spreading it to others, even without symptoms. That figure is up dramatically from last week, when the estimate was one in every 400 people.
“What this means is that Angelenos in the activities of daily living when they go out are very likely to be in the locations or near persons who are currently infectious, and in fact a large typical store is likely to have multiple infectious persons enter the shop every day,” Dr. Roger Lewis, who leads the county’s statistical modeling efforts, said.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, noted the “stark change” in hospitalizations over the past week, with more than 1,700 people currently hospitalized, up from about 1,300 at the beginning of June.
Health officials pointed to a variety of issues leading to the spike in cases, noting increasing numbers of people visiting restaurants, bars, beaches and stores, and also attending mass protests against police brutality, and visiting relatives and friends.
County public health Director Barbara Ferrer acknowledged the problem of quarantine fatigue. Residents, she acknowledged, are clearly anxious to get back to normal life and may see the reopening of businesses as a sign the virus is disappearing — leading to a lack of social distancing and a failure to wear face coverings.
More rollbacks to come?
Pasadena has about 20 bars that strictly sell alcohol, said Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Little, a small number compared to the amount of restaurant-bars in the city. Bars paired with restaurants and offering food menus were allowed to reopen — and can stay open for now under the general restaurant sector provisions.
For those establishments that have to close, Little said, the challenge is going back to having no income at all, making things that much more difficult.
The bigger fear, Little added, is “because we’re in stage 3, (of California reopening) if things continue to get worse, the government will take everything (back) to stage 2 — which means no indoor dining and retail.”
“The challenge,” Little said, “is that the customers aren’t used to the new protocol — they’re going to have to (comply) if they want to have those (bar) experiences again.”
Echoing health officials, Little stressed that everyone needs to heed the admonitions to social distance and wear masks.
“We’re not trying to keep ourselves safe, masks are to protect everyone else from us. Once that message sinks in, I think we’ll see more open in bigger ways,” Little said.
Ferrer said the latest dire statistics have led to a “tenuous moment” in the pandemic, and with the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaching, people need to avoid the temptation to act as if the coronavirus is gone.
“This is going to be a different summer,” she said. “This is going to be a different July Fourth.”
They statement proved even more poignant later Monday, when the county issued orders closing its beaches during the holiday weekend and banning public fireworks displays.
Walking the health-economy line
In the San Fernando Valley, chamber officials were in staff meetings to assess the abrupt turnaround and how businesses could be helped.
“Obviously we’re doing the best we can to follow the health orders given to us,” said Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, CEO of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce. “It’s hard to go back and forth. We’re concerned it’s going to hurt small bar business owners. But at the same time, the health and safety of the community has to be at the forefront.”
Many area bars already have partnered with licensed food providers, she said, becoming “restaurants overnight” in order to remain open along with regular restaurants.
But Batshon at Baddeley’s in Long Beach said some bars that have qualified under that category aren’t fully complying.
“It’s starting to become unfair,” he said. “All these other local businesses are opening up and pretending they serve food but they’re not requiring guests to buy anything.”
He said he visited a few establishments and found the food requirements being skirted.
When allowed to finally reopen about a week ago, Batshon and others scrambled to reopen their doors.
“Lucikly I’d been working my butt off to get us up to spec and a plan going,” he said. He ordered liquor, wine and beer, “which is expensive,” he said, and brought the cleaning crew back in for a full sterilization treatment.
“I had several Yelp reviews saying how safe people felt in our establishment and we were doing everything possible,” he said of the days in which he was able to reopen. Tables were social distanced and most patrons abided by the health department restrictions, he said. Only 24 at a time could be inside the bar at tables spaced at least 6 feet apart.
“Now we’re back at square one,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve taken a step backwards, but the health numbers are the health numbers,” said Jeremy Harris, senior vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in a written statement. “We are very much concerned this will hurt our bar small business owners so we ask that community members heed the advice of local health experts so we may prevent any future closings of other industries.”
Flavin, the chamber CEO in Burbank, said the economic shutdown was overwhelming and costly for the business community. Some of the conflicting medical data that’s floating around doesn’t help as people try to make decisions, he said.
“We did a recent survey and 564 businesses relied,” he said. “Their biggest concern was around the COVID reopening requirements and delays and missteps. This (bar reversal) is a misstep.
“Having been an elected official myself, I know the dangers of unintended consequences,” said Flavin, a former mayor of Burbank. “The economy can’t take it, quite frankly.”
The toll has also hit workers vacillating between unemployment claims and work call-backs.
“I’ve spoken to people who are employees and are depressed,” Vanyek said. “People want to get back to work.”
Vanyek said it’s been a fine line to walk for health officials and business owners alike, adding that the San Fernando Valley is a “resilient community.”
She remains, she said, a “realistic optimist,” having been with the chamber through earthquakes and recessions.
But this particular trial, she conceded, is challenging.
“It’s a really hard time right now,” she said. “We’ve shut down an entire economy and now are trying to reopen it with care so consumers feel confident.”
City News Service contributed to this report