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Open or wait? Local businesses anxious for answers


The CEO of The Blvd!, David Bynum, acknowledges people are losing patience with California's stay-home order but he said it's better to wait for science to run its course rather than jump the gun and risk greater personal and economic damage. "We have to be deliberate and get it right," he said. "Because the cost of getting it wrong is just too great."

Alex Horvath / The Californian

Coronavirus patience is beginning to wear thin among local business owners. As job losses mount along with fears that many businesses won’t survive the pandemic, some Bakersfield entrepreneurs say the time is coming to lift California’s stay-at-home order for the sake of business. The question of how soon is where opinions differ. Reopening the economy too hastily risks a damaging COVID-19 resurgence, leading some to conclude it’s better to wait until science has fully addressed the threat. Others worry the longer the slowdown lasts, the longer a recovery will take. They advocate a controlled return to business that respects social-distancing guidelines. Bakersfield executive recruiter Laura Hill said she's hearing from people who feel they're forced to choose between getting sick and becoming financially ruined. She advocates creating a “swift and safe” plan for allowing businesses to resume operations. “Return America to work now,” she said by email. “Continue practicing social distancing and take precautions, but this government shut down of the American economy is unconstitutional and must end.” SAFETY FIRST The other side is that there’s still too much at risk and that authorities guided by public health considerations should be the ones making the determination when and how people get back to work. David Bynum, CEO of The Blvd! restaurant and entertainment center on Buck Owens Boulevard, said he worries about local businesses’ financial reserves during the shutdown. But he's also concerned about asymptomatic spreading of COVID-19. “I’m definitely desirous to open, but what I’m really more interested in is steps in that direction from the government,” he said. “I think right now it’s premature to reopen.” YOGA DILEMMA Dana Healey’s dilemma illustrates the debate. Her two-location business, Warrior 1 Yoga Bakersfield, has been closed for weeks. She wants to reopen next week with small class sizes and strict requirements that everyone stay at least six feet apart. She feels badly for people who have lost loved ones and said by email that people who have a compromised immune system or live with someone who do should probably stay home and quarantine themselves. “As for those of us healthy folks, we believe it’s safe to go outside!” she said by email. FEDERAL PLAN Healey may have approval to do so from President Donald Trump. Last week he announced the first phase of restarting the economy would soon reopen restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship, large sporting venues and gyms, providing they follow strict social-distancing and sanitation guidelines. Healey’s interpretation of the administration’s guidance is that she can open Monday. STATE PLAN Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan, also unveiled last week, is different. He called for six indicators signaling when California is ready to go back to work. Newsom’s plan also involved making sure businesses carry out social distancing but was generally stricter than Trump’s plan and made no mention of phased starts by industry. In Bakersfield, many businesses remain closed Wednesday but others continue to operate. Notable exceptions to Newsom’s stay-at-home order include markets, gas stations and auto-repair shops, which the governor deemed as essential services. SUIT YOURSELF Some stores tread a finer line than others. A sporting goods and uniforms shop on Chester Avenue was open for business Wednesday. A clerk there noted the store was allowed to operate because its customers include Hall Ambulance and Golden Empire Transit. He said businesses should be able to open if they want. “It’s going to be what you feel is best for yourself,” said the clark, who declined to provide his name. “If you want to stay home, stay home.” BUSINESS REQUESTS The president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Nick Ortiz, said by email his members are looking for consistent guidance for operations, employees and customers. He said they also want “an assurance from a public health standpoint that the sacrifices we’ve already made will in fact be worth it – meaning no one wants to backslide into an outbreak that disrupts the economy all over again.” EXPERT ADVICE David Dobbs shares that concern. The owner of Imbibe Wine & Spirits said the operation has survived at 50 percent of normal sales during the shutdown by doing curbside sales and making deliveries on large orders. He said he would hate to open only to find out he has to shut back down again. “As far as the timing, I’m leaving it to the experts,” he said.


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