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Downtown SLO storefronts reopen with new safety protocols during COVID-19 pandemic 

After months of closed-up storefronts, few cars, and absent footsteps, much of downtown San Luis Obispo has reopened for in-person shopping during the coronavirus pandemic—but with new safety measures in place.

San Luis Obispo County received the all-clear to open up shops on May 20, when the county met the requirements to move into Stage 2 of the state's reopening plan. The state gave permission to 47 out of 58 counties to progress more quickly, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The downtown owners and employees New Times spoke with were happy to have their doors open to customers again after doing online sales or curbside pickup orders prior to entering Stage 2. Abbie Lynch, owner of environmentally conscious children's store EcoBambino, said it's "exciting just to be open" for in-person shopping again, but there are still challenges.

"The hardest thing for me is a majority of the other stores aren't open, so there's no foot traffic," Lynch told New Times, whose store reopened on May 26.

click to enlarge BACK IN BUSINESS Many of San Luis Obispo's downtown shops are open again with modifications to prevent COVID-19's spread. Clothing store Blackwater offers free face masks and sanitizes dressing rooms after every usage. - PHOTO BY FRANCICSO MARTINEZ
  • Photo By Francicso Martinez
  • BACK IN BUSINESS Many of San Luis Obispo's downtown shops are open again with modifications to prevent COVID-19's spread. Clothing store Blackwater offers free face masks and sanitizes dressing rooms after every usage.

In many establishments, requirements posted on doors ask customers to adhere to social distancing and inform the public of the need to limit the number of customers inside at a given time. Some stores also request face coverings when coming inside. At women's clothing boutique Blackwater, owner Maryalice Hamilton said her store offers free face masks to customers when entering as part of their safety guidelines.

"We have gloves if you choose to wear gloves, or we ask that people sanitize their hands prior to coming in and then after they leave," she said.

Other safety measures Hamilton mentioned include capping the number of shoppers in the store, limiting the amount of items in a changing room, and sanitizing the area after every use.

"Our customers are very grateful that we're doing it," Hamilton said. "I haven't had anybody saying otherwise. If anything, they're very grateful that we're going to those measures to make sure that they're safe."

As stores open up for business, they're now tasked with making up for lost revenue to pay rent and other bills. West Coast Silver Company opened its doors right before the pandemic and California's stay-at-home orders went into effect. Manager Ana Grego said it's been difficult as she had to lay off her employees just as the store opened.

"It is so difficult to tell somebody, 'You can't work here even though you just got hired here,'" Grego said. "It's awful. I hate doing that."

Lynch also said she had to lay off staff at EcoBambino for the time, making her the store's only employee until more revenue comes in. But she added that the support she received from the community via curbside pickup orders and delivery kept the store afloat during the pandemic.

"We would not be here today and be able to open if we didn't have our loyalty members and the support of our community," Lynch said. "And I will say that 100 percent. If we didn't have them, we would have probably shut down, so they are definitely what kept us alive."

Fast fact

Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance donated $10,000 to the San Luis Obispo County YMCA via an emergency grant, according to a May 21 press release. San Luis Obispo-based Morris & Garritano Insurance nominated the local YMCA chapter to receive the donation. Money from the donation will go toward keeping YMCA operations running in the coming spring and summer months for low-income families, according to the press release. Δ

Editorial Intern Francisco Martinez wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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