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Napa businesses face coronavirus threat

Napa businesses face coronavirus threat

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

Napa’s airport shuttle service may be temporarily halted. Hotel revenues have dropped. Visitors are cancelling reservations left and right. Grand openings are being postponed.

From wine to dining, many Napa businesses are already facing the ripple effects of the coronavirus as it continues to spread into communities around the U.S.

This is a major hardship for us, just like it is for everybody,” said California Wine Tours (CWT) Chief Operating Officer and President Richard Marino.

At his business, which also runs Evans Airport Shuttle Service, “All of the group incentive travel program we have for the next two months has pretty much been cancelled,” said Marino.

“The companies aren’t willing to take the risk that (employees) will get sick,” or stuck while away from home, he said.

Most groups are postponing their trips, but leaving the future dates to be determined. “No one knows if this thing is going to last for one month, six months or a year.”

On top of that, because fewer people are flying, Marino is faced with the tough decision to possibly suspend their regular airport runs due to lack of riders.

“We’ve never shut down the airporter,” said Marino, but he can’t afford to take only two and three people in a 50- passenger bus to the airport and back. “It’s a numbers game,” he said.

“I’m hoping the same thing that everybody is hoping is — that we can all walk away from this thing and move past it, as quickly as possible,” said Marino.

His company has implemented extended cleaning protocols, including running an ozone generator in each vehicle that deodorizes and sanitizes those hard to reach places in the interior of all vehicles, ensuring a greater than 99.9% kill rate of bacteria, viruses and molds.

“Drivers, office staff and ticketing agents are utilizing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer protocol and washing their hands for more than 20 seconds as recommended by the CDC,” he added.

Tony Giovannoni, owner of HealthQuest Fitness Center, said that his business had already been very conscious of cleaning and sanitizing, but have stepped up those efforts in recent weeks.

“We’ve got a plan in place,” said Giovannoni.

“We’ve got our own crew that comes in every night that disinfects the bathrooms top to bottom” and the rest of the gym, he said. However, since news that virus had started spreading, “We felt we needed to step things up. During the day we wipe down handrails, clean mats and the equipment handles — anything that’s getting hand contact during the day.”

“We want to be as safe as we possibly can.”

HealthQuest already had hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies spread around the gym, but he’s had to restock.

“We had about a months’ supply of hand sanitizer, but it’s only lasted a few weeks,” said Giovannoni.

He’s been posting messages about coronavirus to members on social media, and at this point, “We’ve had a handful of people put their membership on hold,” primarily elderly people or those with compromised health. “Everyone is conscious about it, but nobody is freaking out about it. It hasn’t struck close to home and they are just waiting to see if it’s going to spread.”

“We are aware of the situations and doing everything we think is prudent. My mother and mother-in-law are over 80 and are both coming into the club regularly.”

Chris Melton, shift manager at Napa Bowl, said the bowling alley has always had specific disinfectant routines.

“We still spray our shoes every use with Lysol spray and we always had the hand sanitizer,” available, said Melton.

“We don’t let anyone put on the shoes without having them sprayed first.” But he is noticing more people using the hand sanitizer pumps. Melton said he’s also noticing more fist and elbow bumps instead of handshakes.

“We kid around about it, but they are being more conscious about how much they are shaking hands,” said Melton.

Business hasn’t dropped off, said Melton. “We still have our leagues going on.”

He said he thinks it’s important to remain open. “Otherwise people get stir crazy.”

Scott Timmer, manager at Browns Valley Market said his business has been sold out of hand sanitizer.

“I’ve ordered every type I could think about. The ones I got in, I’m keeping for the cashiers and employees,” he said.

The west Napa market is operating as normal. However, they are, disinfecting all surfaces more frequently, he said. “We use Lysol and a bleach/water (mixture) and, wipe down all registers, cart handles,” said Timmer. “We do it over and over and over again.”

He hasn’t seen an increase in customers asking him about such measures, said Timmer. “I think people know to wash their hands.”

Business has been good, said Timmer. “Like everywhere, they are blowing through the toilet paper,” and paper goods in general, he said. Some shoppers seem to fear being quarantined or “locked down,” he said.

Norm Sawicki, owner of the Trancas Steakhouse, said that his business has hand sanitizer at the front of the restaurant for those who want to use it, besides the normal soap and water in restrooms.

“All our employees are well aware of the problem,” he said. “Our business has been steady.”

“I don’t think the locals are going overboard in their concern about the virus. If you look at the stats, it’s less deadly than the flu. I think the media has pushed it way out of context,” he said.

Sawicki said he’s not concerned about the possibility of big events like BottleRock being cancelled. “I’m just concerned that people don’t panic and stop going out,” he said. If that happens, “then everybody loses.”

Avoiding shaking hands is a good idea, said Sawicki.

“If I’m feeling under the weather, I won’t shake hands with somebody. I’ll do a fist bump. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.”

Preliminary hotel reports from data analyst company STR for February indicate hotels in Napa County were not severely impacted by coronavirus travel concerns.

However, in early March hotels experienced group and leisure business cancellations (or postponed travel) for March. During March 1 to 7, Napa County hotel occupancy declined 11.8 percent (to 58 percent occupancy); with the average daily room rate up by 2.7 percent (to $277.38), but overall revenue per available room declined 9.5 percent (to $161), officials said.

“We expect group meetings and business travel cancellation trends to continue in the coming weeks and months as businesses nationwide curb non-essential travel,” said a news release from Visit Napa Valley. “Similar to many destinations, we are actively trying to capture leisure travelers who plan to travel closer to home or take advantage of air and hotel special offers.”

Napa Valley hotel owner Rick Swig said before the coronavirus hit, he was feeling optimistic about the local hotel industry. Revenue was going up, “and now everything’s a crapshoot,” he said.

“Nobody has a clue, right now,” how bookings will be impacted.

Swig pointed out that the Napa Valley hospitality industry “has been interrupted,” for several years in a row with fires, more fires, power outages and now the coronavirus.

“Now, who knows? What if BottleRock is cancelled?” If so, that would take a lot of revenue out of a lot of hotels, said Swig.

The impact of cancelled conventions in San Francisco could ripple outward and mean fewer visitors taking fewer side trips to Napa Valley. Or will fewer fliers mean more people take driving trips – to Napa Valley.

“Every day is an adventure right now,” said Swig.

Raley’s grocery store announced that it has increased the frequency “of our already stringent sanitation standards to create as safe a shopping experience as possible.”

“We are sanitizing our frequently touched hard surfaces every two hours. As long as supplies are available, we offer sanitizing wipes at each store entrance and hand sanitizer stations in food service departments and at each checkstand,” said an email statement.

In addition, the store is working closely with suppliers “to ensure the availability of high-demand items, such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, anti-bacterial hand soap and cleaning supplies,” the market said.

“Manufacturers of these highly sought-after products have been moved to an allocation model of distribution, so supplies are limited. Our team members are working hard to keep our shelves stocked.”

Ryan O’Dell, manager at Napa’s Outdoor Supply Hardware announced that “due to the concerns around COVID-19, we will be postponing our grand opening event, “With all the concerns around large gatherings and the spread of the virus, we feel this is the best thing for our customers and the company,” O’Dell wrote in an email.

Debbie Hill, a patient safety expert at The Doctors Company, said Napans should expect their medical and health care providers to be staying tuned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines “on a daily basis because every day their recommendations are changing.”

Patients and even caregivers should expect to be screened when they enter a medical practice “so that infectious individuals don’t infect (others),” said Hill.

Practices should post visible alerts at entrances with instructions about cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene.

If someone in a doctor’s office is coughing or sneezing, “they should certainly put a mask on and if a patient, they should move them to a designated room right away.”

Non-patients with a cough or sneeze should wait in their car.

Hill also said patients might also expect to be assessed by telephone or video before they even leave home “so people don’t come into practices sick and expose individuals.”

Chef Mauro Pando, owner of Grace’s Table in downtown Napa, said he’s seen a 50 to 60 percent decrease in his business this past week. Though he currently has no loans taken out to support the business, Pando said he’s considering tapping into his available equity line to fund his payroll, which runs at about $90,000 per month.

“Labor and payroll is something we earn as we go,” Pando said. “We’re a service operated business, and without service, everybody will start to suffer quickly. It’s something that could be impactful within the week.”

As of mid-day Thursday, the restaurant had served around 15 customers; normally, Pando said, that number would be something close to 90. He’d previously considered working with delivery services but has found himself put off by the overhead involved with the services. He encouraged interested customers to order take-out directly from the restaurant, a system that would “put more of the money” into the hands of his employees.

“We’re not a huge destination restaurant, but one that both locals and travelers very much like,” Pando added. “We’re just a part of the river of Napa, and when it’s slow here, we’re super slow. It’s a very stressful time right now.”

Matt Guyot, director of sales for Brix Restaurant in Yountville, said the restaurant had seen a score of cancellations in its group bookings. Around 40 percent of those reservations had been cancelled for this week, he said, noting that many of those groups had left their deposits and stated their intent to attempt to return to Napa in the future.

“These are groups of 30 for lunch or 40 for dinner – companies that have banned all non-essential travel,” Guyot added. “We’re trying everything in our power to get them back to the valley when things calm down. Should someone need to cancel, we’re honoring that.”

He said the restaurant has curbed its hiring at a time when it would normally be ramping up its staff to prepare for the valley’s busy season. Brix recently brought on two new hires, he said, and for the time being, the restaurant will be “tempering back”.

“Luckily, we’re positioned well,” he said. “We have a lot of local support, and the wineries and restaurants continue to support each other. Like everything over these last few years, we’ll streamline and become better and more efficient.”

“No one knows if this thing is going to last
for one month, six months or a year.” California Wine Tours (CWT) COO and President Richard Marino.

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or

“No one knows if this thing is going to last for one month, six months or a year.”

California Wine Tours (CWT) COO and President Richard Marino.

“No one knows if this thing is going to last for one month, six months or a year.”

Pop the cork on Napa Valley wine!

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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