Breweries, hair salons and other businesses hurt by pandemic brace for additional lockdowns

Alan Cassell, a co-owner of the Tavern at the Vogue restaurant on Chula Vista, carries drinks to a table.
Alan Cassell, a co-owner of the Tavern at the Vogue restaurant on Chula Vista, carries drinks to a table.
(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Whipsawed businesses question rationale behind state’s new regional approach to stay at home orders.


San Diego restaurants, hotels, hair salons and breweries bristled at the prospect of further COVID-19 restrictions announced Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom — particularly new regional criteria that lumps their fate together with Los Angeles, Riverside and other Southern California counties with higher hospitalization rates.

Businesses fear the state’s regional approach for triggering tough stay-at-home orders “sets us up” for lockdowns that may take longer to lift.

“I think most people expected shutdowns at some point, but it did catch everybody off guard that we’re getting lumped into a bigger category of Southern California rather than just San Diego,” said Kris Anacleto, president of San Diego Brewers Guild and manager of Booze Brothers Brewery in North County.

“It will definitely last longer, even if we’re in a better position,” he continued. “When the state opened up the color tier system, San Diego was one of the better counties. Being lumped into the category with everyone else is disheartening.”

Under the new regional criteria, San Diego County is part of a group of 11 neighboring jurisdictions, ranging from San Luis Obispo County to Imperial County.

Stay-at-home orders kick in when the availability of intensive care beds in the region drop below 15 percent.

The restrictions would last for a minimum of three weeks, but could go longer depending on the pace of hospitalizations.

Current ICU availability in the Southern California region is 20.6 percent, according to the state. Given the recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Newsom said the region could hit the 15 percent threshold in a matter of days.

If that happens, businesses operating in a limited capacity now must close, including hair salons/barbershops, museums, zoos, playgrounds, wineries, bars/breweries, and personal care services such as manicurists, among others.

Moreover, retailers and shopping malls must limit indoor operations to 20 percent capacity, compared with the current 25 percent. Hotels can serve only essential workers, not leisure travelers. Restaurants would be restricted to takeout and delivery only. Gyms could operate outdoors.

A shutdown would strike a heavy blow to businesses and organizations already whipsawed by the pandemic.

“This being the third round of adjustments, I don’t know how much more some of us breweries can take, or some of these restaurants or salons can take,” said Anacleto.

Joye Giammarinaro and her business partner Raymond Baluyot, owners of the B&G Studio hair salon in North Park, are already in a tough spot financially. They had previously decided not to renew their lease in October. Now, they may even have to vacate the lease early — and risk legal action from their landlord — if the salon’s four remaining stylists can’t afford to pay booth rent.

“We’re tired,” she said. “This has been a horrible experience for me as a business owner.”

A GoFundMe campaign started in April raised nearly $6,000 for the duo, who opened B&G Studio in 2017. But, for Giammarinaro, asking for another round of donations would be too embarrassing.

That leaves her thinking about life after her business. The 45-year-old career stylist said she has applied to college to study accounting in the hopes of landing a more secure position down the road.

“Hair has always been my art. The art of my life,” she said. “I’ve always been one to help others. This is the only time I’ve begged for help.”

Bob Rauch, a long-time San Diego hotel operator, said his three hotels hit 90 percent occupancy at rates of $170 per night during the holidays last year.

This year, Thanksgiving came in at 50 percent occupancy at $100 per night, and Christmas looks equally bleak.

Rauch has cut staff to weather the pandemic. With further restrictions on the horizon, he expects to end the year with about half the number of employees as a year earlier.

“There is no group business. There is no corporate business, and (Newsom) has effectively said to leisure travelers, ‘Don’t go,’” said Rauch, “And he may soon say you can’t go.”

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said late Thursday he was disappointed businesses would be feeling the economic brunt of California’s lockdown efforts once again.

Since state and local medical professionals have said the virus is widespread in the community, it does not make sense to keep targeting specific business sectors, he said.

Desmond added that he’s pleased that the state would be using the number of ICU beds as a metric. However, he’s worried the ICU bed totals would be tied to every reason for being there — not just COVID — and could end up closing businesses for other things, such as surgeries.

“Unfortunately, it is punishing businesses that don’t have a direct link to the cause of more ICUs,” he said.

Business partners Dr. Gonzalo Quintero, right, and Alan Cassell, left, inside the Tavern at the Vogue in Chula Vista.
(Ariana Drehsler / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Alan Cassell and Gonzalo Quintero, co-owners of the Tavern at the Vogue restaurant on Chula Vista’s Third Avenue, commiserated over beers about the new impending orders. The restaurant installed a $10,000, 150-square-foot deck on top of several parking spaces in front of its building, complete with coverings, heaters and socially-distanced seating.

Cassell said it is frustrating to be grouped with counties, such as Riverside and Imperial, that have not adapted to coronavirus mitigation measures as well as San Diego.

“(Newsom) put us into buckets so that it’s inarguable — we’re now part of L.A. County and we’re part of these other counties that aren’t anywhere near as statistically strong as San Diego County,” Cassell said. “He’s putting us good apples in with worse apples. It’s frustrating.”

Cassell said he expects business to go down 50 to 70 percent if the regional lockdown is ordered.

Quintero, who is also a city councilman in National City, said he understands and believes in the science behind the virus, but that the new groupings are an overreach.

“I’m a Democrat, but I’m also a businessman, and I also believe in small government,” he said. “Us being grouped with all these other locales in aggregate — that is gigantic government.”

Quintero said he was frustrated that the state government keeps moving the goalposts on businesses.

“We’ve done everything we can,” he said. “What little money we have made, we’ve reinvested into the business.”

To Quintero, it’s not just the potential loss of outdoor dining customers over the next three weeks that is concerning, but the effect on consumer confidence a long shutdown could have once they’re allowed to again reopen.

“Especially this time of year, I don’t think anyone can last more than three weeks,” he said. “For us, we’ll be fine, we’ll figure it out, we’re always going to figure something out.”

— This story’s writers are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune