The state of Alaska told businesses they could reopen — with limitations — to the public starting Friday, provided they follow a long list of health and safety protocols. Here in Homer, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s phased plan for reopening the economy looks a little different, where businesses are charting their own courses based on what they feel works best for their own needs, and for their customers.
When non-essential businesses were shuttered or limited to curbside service in March, a Facebook page called HOMEr-to-go quickly materialized and has served as a hub for information about take out, delivery and curbside food and retail options for weeks.
Upon getting the green light from the governor, businesses have started taking to the Facebook page to announce soft, cautious reopenings. Many are advertising limited hours and business done by reservation only.
Some, like Captain’s Toy Chest on the Sterling Highway and Sustainable Wares on Ocean Drive, are encouraging online purchases and curbside service, but are opening their doors in a limited fashion for customers who call ahead to make appointments. Captain’s Toy Chest is limiting its in-store appointments to one adult with no more than three children.
Hairdresser Ashley Story of Short Cuts on Lake Street is excited to have her clients back. By Friday, she already had the day fully booked at 20-minute intervals.
“I’m spacing people out with enough time to clean in between each person, and asking that, unless it’s a direct family (member) like these guys,” Story said, gesturing to the family member of her client waiting on a sofa across the room. “… one person at a time in the salon. So people wait in the car, and then they come in.”
Then when Story gives her next waiting customer “the signal” that it’s safe to enter, they also leave their car and take a seat in her chair.
Story said it hasn’t been too difficult following along with the state mandates and the loosened restrictions for businesses — she tunes into the nightly press conferences hosted by Dunleavy and his administration.
Mostly, Story said she’s “excited to see everyone and catch up, and see how everyone’s doing.”
While some swung their doors open on Friday, a handful of Homer business owners, like Ashley Moore of Moore Music, are taking things a little slower. Businesses were allowed to open Friday, but not required to. Moore is waiting until Tuesday, giving himself a little more time to get his ducks in a row.
“Better right than rushed,” he said in an email. “Taking the extra couple of days to do things like rearrange the showroom to allow for safe distancing between patrons, and limiting hours to work around lessons which we started streaming instead of doing in person over a month ago.”
Moore said the store will be limiting capacity in the showroom to five people, and will only be open Tuesday through Friday, in order to utilize Monday as an extra day off to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
Purveyors of the Homer Bookstore are also holding back on letting customers browse their shelves again. The store announced on Facebook that it will continue operating with curbside service, and its online or over the phone shopping options. The store is even providing “virtual shopping” by sending photos and videos of inventory to the literature-starved of Homer.
Part of the mandate guiding the reopening of businesses allows restaurants to open to dine-in service as long as they do not exceed 25% of their building capacity, take reservations from groups living under a single household, and keep dining tables at least 10 feet apart. Some restaurants are finding this easier to do than others.
Popular bar and restaurant Alibi Bar & Cafe is opting out of the option to open, preferring to continue offering take-out service during this early phase of restarting Alaska’s economy.
“We miss you all. We do,” the restaurant announced to its customers on Facebook. “This has been hard. This will continue to be hard well into the summer. We miss your laughter, your smiles and your presence.”
The establishment has chosen to wait even though the state has relaxed some of its restrictions on businesses, the post states.
“We’re just not ready,” the post reads. “We don’t know if there’s a specific metric we’re looking for, but when we feel our employees are safe, our customers are safe, our community is safe … we’ll re-open dine-in service. Our customer and employee safety is paramount.”
Alibi will reevaluate on May 1.
Conversely, Alice’s Champagne Palace just a few blocks away on Pioneer Avenue took advantage of its spacious floor plan to reopen for dine-in service on Friday. The restaurant and bar has been providing a no-contact grocery service for Homer’s vulnerable or at risk population, and had recently opened its kitchen for take out meals with a number of to-go beer selections as well.
On Saturday, Manager Josh Tobin said the restaurant got notice they’d be allowed to reopen on Friday the same day it reopened for take-out service.
“I kind of felt like it’s a little soon,” Tobin said. “I have my concerns about it for both the customers and the staff, but I also feel like we need to normalize our revenue and I feel like we’re forced to give it a try.”
One advantage Alice’s has is lots of space in order to comply with the state’s distancing guidelines for dine-in customers.
“So when they said the tables need to be 10 feet apart, our tables are more than that,” Tobin said.
Alice’s is taking reservations and abiding by the rest of the state’s guidelines for restaurants, Tobin said. When staff approach within 6 feet of customers, they’re wearing face masks and gloves, he said.
Staff is also sanitizing the tables between each customer, and that means more than just the usual table wipe down.
“It’s not just the tables,” Tobin said. “It’s the chairs, the seats, everything.”
The restaurant is no longer keeping things like napkins, salt or pepper on the tables, and Tobin said Alice’s is utilizing disposable dinner wear and cutlery for customers as much as possible.