A small crowd of supporters gathered outside the Quent Cordair Fine Art gallery on Monday morning, but this group wasn’t necessarily looking to buy a painting or sculpture. They were there to support the gallery’s decision to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, defying the county’s closure of “non-essential” businesses.
“It’s a matter of exercising your freedom,” said Joyce Loehner, Napa resident.
Loehner stood holding a handwritten sign that read “OPEN our ECONOMY” on one side and “Shop Local” on the other.
The county has ordered everyone to shelter-in-place, but “We’re practicing good infection control,” said Loehner, adding that most of those present were wearing masks and standing apart from each other.
The government should trust people enough “to be good citizens and make good decisions about our health,” including which shops to frequent, said Loehner.
Larry Green of Napa held his own sign, “Let us work,” as he stood next to the gallery at 1301 First St. “We’re supporting small businesses … and the little guy getting back to work,” he said.
If you want to shelter-in-place, “you have every right to do so,” said Green. However, Green said he doesn’t want small business owners “to be reliant on government handouts.”
What if Green is an asymptomatic carrier of the COVID-19 virus and doesn’t know it?
“I’m wearing my mask and social distancing,” he said. “If that’s not good enough, stay at home.”
“It’s time” to let them reopen, said one woman, holding a sign in support of the gallery owners’ decision.
“People are suffering,” said the woman, who declined to give her name because she has a small business in Napa, and was worried her customers might not agree with her opinion.
What about the county public health officer asking people to shelter in place?
“If you’re compromised, stay home,” she said.
“We just wanted to show our support,” for the gallery owners Linda and Quent Cordair, said the woman. “They’re the first business to take a chance,” and reopen against the county’s wishes.
Leon Brauning attended the small gathering as well.
The Cordairs “are very brave people” to have publicly announced their reopening against county wishes, he said. The Cordairs released a letter last Monday stating their need to reopen the gallery or face dire economic consequences.
He said reopening will help the local economy. Before COVID-19, the Napa County was doing well, Brauning said. “Now everyone’s hurting. It needs to come back. Some common sense needs to be used here.”
“Every business is essential,” he said.
Not everyone agreed, however. As Brauning spoke, a man on a bicycled pedaled by. “Grow up,” he shouted.
That bit of dissent was one of only a few such instances during the approximately hour-long gathering.
The other came from Colin Dawson of Napa.
“I think they’re idiots,” said Dawson, who stood on the other side of First Street to watch the assembly. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t think anything in that store is essential.”
“An art store, of all things,” he said, dismissively. “It’s about as essential as a third foot.”
Dawson said if the owners haven’t saved enough money to get through an emergency like this, “there’s something wrong” with them, he said.
Dawson, who was wearing a mask, said he came to the gallery because he was hoping there’d be people protesting the reopening. “It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I’m the only one stopping people from entering that store.”
Kent Higginbotham of Napa also participated in the gathering. “I admire them so much for the stand they are taking,” he said of the Cordairs.
He doesn’t agree that the gallery should be closed. “What is the common sense,” when the candy store next to the gallery can be open but the art gallery can’t.
Gallery owner Linda Cordair said approximately 40 people – no more than six at a time – visited inside the gallery in that first hour.
Inside the gallery, Quent and Linda Cordair were kept busy welcoming visitors and making sure all sanitizing procedures were being followed.
They offered masks for sale for $5, hand sanitizer and posted signs about social distancing. Anyone who signed their guest book was asked to keep the pen they used.
“We’re happy to be open,” said Linda Cordair. The couple said that their attorney advised them against commenting further.
In a Register story last week, they said the gallery could reopen safely, with proper precautions.
“We are facing financial ruin,” if the gallery is not able to reopen, Quent Cordair said then.
Napa resident Sheri DeBow was also at the gathering. As an artist, DeBow said she especially wanted to support the business owners. In addition, “As an American, I love seeing someone who’s standing up for their civil liberties and livelihood,” and is willing to take a stance.
“It makes no sense that people can go to Walmart and Target but can’t frequent a local business.”
DeBow is married to Terry Letson of Fume bistro in north Napa. Letson said while Fume had been open for take-out, he decided to reopen for table services on Monday.
“We’re all suffering,” said Letson. Take-out isn’t enough. “If we don’t keep our restaurant full, we go out of business,” he said.
“We’ve been patient,” said Letson. However, “we don’t feel that Napa County (COVID-19) statistics warrant a closure.”
Letson said to ensure safe dining, he’s removed half of the dining tables and added new safety measures including taking the temperatures of employees and using paper napkins. Business hours have been reduced and they are open only for dinner.
“We’re taking a lot of precautions to be safe. But if people aren’t comfortable yet, they are more than welcome to stay home.”
Is he worried about catching the attention from city or county authorities?
“Of course I am,” he said. “But that doesn’t outweigh how I feel about reopening the business.”
“I don’t know where the city will go with this,” he said. Things are changing, he noted. “The governor might decide Wednesday to reopen the state.
Napa County spokeswoman Molly Rattigan said only that the county had sent a letter to the gallery about the reopening.
The Cordairs previously stated they were prepared “to risk fines, arrest, or jail,” by reopening.
According to city spokeswoman Jaina French, the Napa police department’s responsibility is to make the business aware of the public health order.
“We will encourage them to follow the directives of the public health order … in order to protect the health and safety of our community,” said French.
French said the first step in compliance is an educational phone call.
“If complaints continue, a follow-up phone call may occur or if there is a refusal to comply,” a citation may be issued said French.
The County’s health order states that a violation of or failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both, said French.
“We stress the importance of compliance of the health order so that we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in our community. We have not yet had to resort to enforcement.”
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com
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