shops reopen

Effective Thursday, retail shops are able to allow customers inside, for the first time since the March 19 closures due to the coronavirus in Long Beach. Not every store was prepared to open their doors just yet but many were excited to greet customers and are hoping they'll comply with the new rules of sanitizing, wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart.

It still wasn’t completely normal, but for some retail shoppers in Long Beach, being inside a retail shop may have even felt a little nostalgic Thursday as some retail stores allowed customers inside for the first time since mid-March.

Small pockets of shoppers perused small businesses in Belmont Shore and Retro Row a day after Mayor Robert Garcia’s announcement that retail shops in Long Beach could reopen for the first time since the stay-at-home order was declared.

The announcement is part of the state’s “Resilience Roadmap” toward reopening, where it’s currently moving through Phase 2, which allows the reopening of lower-risk workplaces, including places of worship, retail centers and office spaces.

“We’re excited to finally welcome customers and see Second Street look a little bit more lively,” said Christina Vakhshourpour, co-owner of The Alcove on Second Street, noting that the shop’s inventory is up to 50 percent off.

Like other stores, Vakhshourpour said that they made do with the situations by ramping up their online store and offering local delivery to customers.

Although the shops are open, they must remain at 50% capacity and allow for six feet of physical distancing between customers at all times. Masks are mandatory and employees must be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms before starting work.

But even with strict guidelines, residents were seen browsing the open retail shops Thursday afternoon.

“Being outside, walking through here, right now it feels like things are a little normal,” area resident Rommy Kish said as she looked through the merchandise at Shara in Belmont Shore. “It feels kind of like comfort food, that feeling of being calm and just happy where you’re at.”

Along Retro Row, some businesses remained closed to the public, but still listed their website and social media handles on their windows to direct customers to their online shops. Other spaces were ready for walk-ins with owners and employees eager to welcome customers.

“We lost a whole season; my business was in a coma,” Kathleen Schaaf, owner at Meow Vintage, 2210 E. Fourth St. “I had a nurse who is on maternity leave call me yesterday to pick up a T-shirt, and she was my first customer yesterday… it feels nice to be able to feel some normalcy today.”

Schaaf said that while her shop was closed, she was still cleaning and organizing inventory daily to prepare for an eventual reopen. She was able to sell clothes through her website and Instagram during the closure.

In North Long Beach, where the shutdown had also kept new businesses from opening as part of an economic revitalization, Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson believed the announcement came at the right time, he said Thursday.

“While my utmost concern is the health and wellness of our residents, I believe based on our medical and testing capacity, as well as feedback we’ve received from impacted businesses, that now is the time to begin measured reopening of our local businesses,” he said.

But while businesses are allowed to reopen, Richardson said his priority is to make sure small businesses have the tools in place to reopen safely, highlighting barbershops and nail salons as places where people often interact in intimate settings before and during their appointments.

“We know this will be a long road to recover, so we need to make sure we are continually supporting our businesses in a way that is equitable and helpful, so they can thrive,” he said.

The sentiment was echoed for Downtown Long Beach businesses.

Kraig Kojian, president and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, said in a statement that he’s connected with many stakeholders who, despite ongoing frustration and uncertainty, were thankful that the city was taking necessary steps to ensure that businesses will be able to safely reopen.

“Businesses of all types have been struggling for months, including downtown Long Beach,” Kojian said. “We welcome the news that retailers are finally able to open their doors to customers — but operating at 50% capacity will undoubtedly prove challenging for some. Still, it’s a positive step toward economic recovery.”

In Belmont Shore, it wasn’t known exactly how many shops reopened Thursday, but it was anticipated those that did not would reopen Friday, said Dede Rossi, executive director of the Belmont Shore Business Association.

Rossi spent some of her Thursday working with shop owners to make sure they had the right signs and safety measures in place for customers.

Some owners were frustrated last weekend as neighboring Orange County businesses were given the green light to reopen, she said. Now, for Belmont Shore, the wait is over.

“I’m excited to go by tomorrow,” Rossi said. “I think we’ll have a lot more people out.”

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