SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns with overgrown hair, unkempt nails and in need of a good workout after indulging in too much comfort food and couch time during the COVID-19 shutdown celebrated the phased reopening of many businesses Friday.
Ditto for those anxious to dine at their favorite restaurants, which have been limited to takeout service for weeks.
It’s not business as usual by any means given operational changes, hygiene regimens, social distancing and symptom monitoring recommended by public health authorities as state and county officials relax public health restrictions. Masks are a must for employees and in many businesses, customers are encouraged to wear them, too.
Despite the new operating conditions, May 1 was not only a day to celebrate spring but the day that many idled businesses started on the road to economic recovery. It also meant a reprieve for thousands of workers who have been unemployed for weeks.
For people in desperate need of a dye job, a get-together with friends at a restaurant or a soothing massage, it was a day to rejoice.
Debbie Jensen, of Tooele, a regular at Lotus Nail Spa in Stansbury Park, said Friday’s opening was a big relief because her beauty regimen had suffered during the shutdown.
“I had gray roots like crazy, my toenails had just taken a blow and my hands had seen better days,” she said, laughing.
After receiving a manicure and pedicure, Jensen said she felt refreshed. “It was such a boost to my self-esteem.”
Lotus Nail Spa manager Emily Walbeck said the day brought a flood of calls for appointments — and a big relief for her and her family, who own and operate two nail salons in Tooele County.
“I spent literally 11 hours straight” booking appointments, she said.
With a bare-bones staff, since some nail technicians still aren’t comfortable returning to work and strict social distancing guidelines in place, Walbeck said her nail salon is fully booked until the middle of the month.
At Fierce Image Beauty and Lash Lounge in Clearfield, operator Sandra Fernandez said there was intense demand for the shop’s services, which include tanning, body waxing, nail service and lash extensions.
“It’s been awesome,” Fernandez said. She arrived at work at 8:30 a.m. Friday and planned to work until 8:30 p.m.
On Saturday, she said, she has a similar schedule.
“They’re back!” she exclaimed.
Riverton puts on business blitz to boost economy
In the south valley, Riverton launched a “business blitz” aimed at getting residents to patronize local establishments. Through next Friday, consumers can drive through Riverton City Park where signs from more than 100 local businesses are set up roadside offering consumers discounts, deals, coupons and special incentives. Individuals are urged to take photos of offers that can be redeemed at the local businesses through August.
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said there is also a giveaway of $6,000 in gift cards. The city repurposed travel funds after the COVID-19 pandemic precluded officials from making trips.
Staggs said the campaign is intended to help stimulate the city’s economy and hopefully recover some of the sales tax revenue lost when businesses closed.
“I just prepared a budget that we’re presenting to our City Council Tuesday, and we’re seeing across the county estimates of sales tax revenue is projected to fall this calendar year almost 20%,” he said.
“That’s a huge impact to our city budget. But I think more important is the economic impact to individuals and families. It’s been very difficult, so we’re hopeful that we can protect lives while protecting livelihoods.”
Retail store manager Liz Atkinson said she was happy to be back at work following a long hiatus due to coronavirus. She said numerous measures have been put into place to ensure customer and employee health and safety, including signs with reminders about social distancing.
“We do have to sanitize every hour. After anybody comes out of the dressing room, we have to make sure that we’re wiping down the handles (and) all the benches,” she said.
Others like hairstylist Kristen Anderson, 23, of Highland, ventured out for a short time on Friday to pick up a purchase. Anderson said she worries that it may still be too soon to allow people to resume in-store shopping, dining or seeking personal services. She has concerns about returning to work next week.
“Honestly, the only reason I’m going back is some of my clients,” she explained. “I’m in customer service (and) the whole thing is to make your client happy. But what scares me is you can’t social distance when you’re doing someone’s hair. You can’t stand 6 feet away from somebody and still do their hair.”
Her health and that of her loved ones weighs heavy on her mind.
“I have asthma and I also live with two people (elderly relatives) that are in the high-risk category,” she said.
Summit County eateries taking measured approach
In Summit County, where the health department has mandated stringent inspections before eateries can return to a semblance of normalcy, restaurants that have been relegated to curbside-only business since March 15 did not rush to open their doors on Friday.
No restaurants on Park City Main Street reopened, although 501 on Main was greasing the wheels as fast as possible.
“We were just given the order from the health department last night (Thursday) clarifying that we would be going from high risk to moderate risk effective as of 12:01 a.m. today (Friday),” said general manager Alyssa Marsh.
Complying with the health department’s requirements takes time, precluding a full opening immediately, Marsh noted. She hoped that an inspection would occur soon allowing the restaurant to know the new parameters it must operate going forward, such as floor layout, sanitization practices and who can handle cash, among other issues.
“Give us guidelines and we will abide by them,” Marsh said. “We’re ready for them. We’re jumping to get going. We have customers that want to come in and staff that wants to work. Oh my goodness, we can’t wait to restore this community, to bring it back from what people are calling a ghost town to a community again.”
Orem mall open, but not all retailers
University Place general manager Rob Kallas said about 20% of the mall’s stores are open, but he estimates that number will gradually rise in the coming weeks. About five stores opened on Friday.
National chains like Forever 21, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Victoria Secret, Express and H&M are all largely closed, though Kallas said a few chain stores remain open.
Mall staff are cleaning and sanitizing inside and outside the mall. In accordance with the governor’s order, dining has been curbside and drive-thru, Kallas said, though some of the restaurants are in the process of making plans to open dining areas with limited seating.
Some businesses, like Hope Ave clothing store, never closed.
“It’s been really nice to kind of keep the consistency for our customers,” said store manager Erin Corrigan. “I think that was kind of our hope, that our customers still felt like we were an outlet for them. It was really nice that the mall gave us the flexibility to do that.”
The mall was relatively empty around noon though some people, like Allessandra and Trevor Harris, browsed open stores and peered into shuttered windows.
“We just wanted to walk around. We knew everything opened up today so we wanted to see if the mall was open,” Allessandra Harris said. “It’s nice — there are cars in the parking lot.”
Orem’s MidiCi pizza restaurant opened its doors for in-house dining Friday after weeks of navigating takeout and curbside delivery.
Owner Adam Wills said he is nervous because he doesn’t know what to expect. The past few weeks have been an “interesting time” because employees’ efforts to transition into a takeout model then pivot back to in-house dining have been a “tricky feat in itself.”
Tables are spaced 6 feet apart, which has significantly reduced the dining room capacity. The restaurant has lost a number of college student employees, who returned to their homes when campuses were shuttered.
“I trust that we will be able to work through the kinks, and as long as our guests are patient with us we will figure it out in a matter of days,” he said. “People being able to go out to eat is going to help lift other people’s spirits, not just restaurant businesses being successful, but also helping everyone’s morale.”
Customer Dan Nelson, who sat in a booth by the window with business partner Matt Hansen, said they purposely sat in sunlight.
“We are feeling a little bit liberated to be honest. It’s a weird feeling. We’ve been thinking about it all day,” Nelson said.
Despite the OK from state officials to resume in-restaurant dining, Chuck-A-Rama, a buffet-style restaurant with locations in Utah and Idaho, will hold off until it’s economically viable, said district manager Thomas Robinson.
“We want to open right away of course,” he said. “But if we open up and four tables come in, how is that helping anyone honestly.”
It’s not as though the restaurant chain could open overnight, Robinson said.
The process of rehiring furloughed workers, ordering ingredients and overhauling the restaurant’s layout to adhere to social distancing guidelines could take weeks. Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, some of the country’s largest meat processors, recently closed some of their plants, and Robinson said the disruption in the supply chain is fueling the logistical battle.
“The big question is the delivery of materials, I can’t tell you how long that will take.”
Robinson said he is also worried about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases that would force the governor to reenact the restrictions on dine-in service.
“Think of all the wasted food, if we have to shut again, that could’ve gone to people’s homes. Think of all the employees that may have gotten other jobs. Do we call them back and get them a new job, then two weeks later we have to shut again?”
Steady stream of bookings
Jessica Rodda, owner of Willow Bow Massage Therapy in Clearfield, opened her door to clients on Friday morning and was getting a steady stream of online bookings.
“We want to get back in the groove of things,” she said.
The business offers three separate massage rooms, which are sanitized between customers.
Customers and therapists must mask up and clients text the business on their arrival and must wait in their cars before being given the OK to enter.
Rodda said all customers must wash their hands upon arrival, get their temperature taken and are asked a series of health questions.
It’s good being back in business after being shuttered for weeks, she added.
“Staying home with the kids was nice, but it was stressful in a different way.”
Rodda applied for the federal government’s assistance package for small businesses and is hopeful she will be able to pay her staff for April.
Chris Hebertson, who has been getting monthly massages from Rodda for two years, was one of her first clients to book a session Friday after he was unable to get an appointment in April.
“It was fantastic. It’s like finding a good hair lady, you find a good one and you stick with it,” he said.
Not so fast, some businesses owners say
Not all Utah businesses are in a hurry to reopen.
In an email to customers, Kura Door Holistic Japanese Spa owners and operators Mark and Ali Kulmer wrote that the governor’s executive order allowing personal services business to reopen on May 1 at the discretion of the business was “simply too soon.”
The state’s guidance calls for strict hygiene regimen and symptom monitoring.
“While we very much look forward to reopening our beautiful Kura Door in the near future, we have not yet settled upon a date as we believe that there is still much to consider and prepare in order to best protect and care for our staff and guests,” the Kulmers wrote.
Some of those measures include reviewing state and county operation guidelines, obtaining a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment for staff and customers, training staff on new procedures and sanitation guidelines, updating business hours and scheduling to limit numbers of guests in the spa at one time and updating payment software to allow for “contactless payment.”
“Once we are sure that we are capable of providing the safest experience possible for our staff and guests we will publish a reopening date via email and Facebook and begin booking spa service appointments via text and telephone,” the email states.
The spa owners were not alone in their caution.
The owners and operators of three Salt Lake booksellers, Ken Sanders Rare Books, The King’s English Bookshop and Weller Book Works, weighed in in a “manifesto” addressed to Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
“For the safety of our customers, our booksellers, and our community we oppose ... (the) premature lifting of restrictions that have helped slow the onslaught of the coronavirus in Utah,” it states in part.
Although retail outlets and restaurants are fighting for their economic survival and that of their employees, by reopening on May 1 “we would risk our lives along with those of our employees and customers,” the statement said.
“To suppose we can totally reopen our economy while COVID-19 cases are rampant in our state is magical thinking at best — and an idea we suspect our mayors view with misgivings,” the statement said in part.
Instead, the booksellers will continue to offer curbside pickup, local delivery and virtual story times.
“We ... beseech you to allow local businesses to do businesses in safe and thoughtful ways rather than throwing our doors open to the public before it is safe to do so,” said the statement signed by Ken Sanders, Betsy Burton, Anne Holman, and Catherine and Tony Weller.
Don’t ease up on prevention efforts, health official cautions
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, during the state’s daily briefing on COVID-19 on Friday, said baseline recommendations still stand even as the state has shifted from red risk level to orange.
“The key to preventing additional spread throughout the state of Utah is going to be staying home if you do have symptoms or you’ve come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19. That’s really going to prevent spread to additional individuals,” Dunn said.
She added: “So even though we are opening pieces of our economy and society, those principles still hold, and then especially for our most more vulnerable populations, older adults, those with underlying medical conditions. It’s important for them to maintain social distance, even if they aren’t ill.”
Contributing: Amy Joi O’Donoghue, Lee Benson, Katie McKellar, Jasen Lee, Sahalie Donaldson and Kyle Dunphey
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Riverton’s mayor. He is Mayor Trent Staggs.