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Napa Valley businesses confront new COVID-19 restrictions
COVID-19

Napa Valley businesses confront new COVID-19 restrictions

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan: Fall/Winter 2020 edition series

Napa County plummeted overnight from the COVID-19 orange tier to the purple tier, leaving many local business owners scrambling Tuesday to adjust to new restrictions and keep their businesses afloat.

“It’s like the vultures are circling,” said Dan Sousa, owner of Napa Bowl. “I don’t know what we are going to do.”

“Oh, I don’t know what to say at this point,” said Tony Giovannoni, owner of Napa’s HealthQuest Fitness Center. “It’s horrible,” he said resignedly.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Michael Gyetvan, of Norman Rose restaurant and Azzurro Pizzeria. “It’s already a challenge enough to get people to sit outside. Now they don’t have a choice.”

The purple tier designation means that restaurants can only serve take-out food or offer outdoor dining. “Entertainment” venues like Napa Bowl are effectively closed. Retail and salons can offer indoor services and shopping with restrictions.

Gyetvan said that he was expecting the drop in tiers, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially for Norman Rose. Because that restaurant has fewer outdoor seating options and does less take-out business, he may have to temporarily close that eatery.

On the other hand, take-out orders make up about 70% of Azzurro Pizzeria’s current business and it has more outdoor seating options, which means that restaurant is in a better situation to weather this change.

“We’ll have to see how it plays out,” he said. But, the whole situation is unfortunate.

“You’re going to have to lay off some people,” he said, speaking of restaurants. “It might be the beginning of the end for some.”

Tom Finch, owner of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, said moving to the purple tier “will impact me terribly.”

“Tomorrow morning I have to tell half my staff they can’t come to work,” he said during a phone call on Monday afternoon. With 45 employees, that means at least 20 of his staff will be reduced.

“Thankfully I do enough take out, it will help me a little bit,” said Finch. However, “You’re going to start seeing businesses dropping,” he said. “Every restaurant in Napa County will continue to suffer. At some point, it will be the last straw.”

At HealthQuest, “we’re holding our own,” said Giovannoni. “I’m not worried about making it but it’s not going to be comfortable,” he said. “We’ve been there for 30 years. We’ve got support” from members and the community, he said.

Online classes are helping a bit, but the weather will limit what the gym can offer outside. “It’s not going to pay me” a salary, he said, but it will keep key staff covered by health insurance.

Normally the fitness center would have 90 to 100 employees. That number could drop to as few as 10, he said. “When there’s no money coming in, it’s hard to keep any more than you absolutely must have. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of choices.”

Sousa said he’d just managed to rehire some of his staff at Napa Bowl. “Now I have to tell them all we’re done again.”

“There are 25 more families that aren’t going to be working at Christmas,” including employees at the Lane 33 café, he said. “All my employees are going to scatter.”

“Bowling centers are one of the cleanest operations,” he asserted. “The building inside is so big” and the lanes are spaced far apart.

“I just don’t know,” said Sousa. “I just can’t believe this keeps going on like this. It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

“Oh dear,” said Community Projects President Diana Gerig, upon hearing the news that Napa County was now in the purple tier. That means fewer customers can come into the store at any one time.

“When you’re only allowed 17 (shoppers) in at a time, you can’t expect to make a lot of money,” she said. “It does impact sales.” That will affect the number of grants and donations the nonprofit will be able to make in the future.

“We’ll just wait and see,” said Gerig. And “be very, very careful,” she said. “That’s all we can do.”

Fr. Fergal McGuinness at St. Apollinaris parish in north Napa, said the reduction in tiers wasn’t completely unexpected.

“We just have to deal with it. Our biggest concern is to try and operate as best we can and keep people safe and healthy.”

That means moving Masses back outside, again, he said.

“We had our last indoor Mass today,” he said on Tuesday morning. The next step is to focus on setting up an outdoor gathering space and continuing livestreaming Mass on Facebook.

“Our main concern is the weather and rain,” said the priest. “It’s going to be a challenge,” he admitted. Tents will be installed, he said. “We may set up the altar barely inside the vestibule and the congregation would be outside.”

As directed by the diocese, services are also shorter, he said. A normal Sunday Mass was about 45 minutes. These days, that time is cut down to about 25 to 30 minutes, “So people are gathered together for the least possible time,” he said. “It’s frustrating for everybody but I think people understand.”

Domaine Carneros had anticipated winter weather and a possible ban on indoor wine tastings by erecting two tents for outdoor tastings.

Outdoor-only tastings will greatly restrict Domaine Carneros’ tasting room capacity, said Erin Stauffer, chief marketing officer said. The winery typically books tastings as far as a month out, but that will change as tasting capacity will vary depending on weather, Stauffer said.

That kind of regression in capacity will almost assuredly have “a significant impact” on the winery’s fiscal projections through the end of 2020 and into 2021, said Remi Cohen, Domaine Carneros’s CEO. Staff are now working to assess how best to heat the tents to accommodate guests as daytime temperatures continue to fall, she said.

“I have a feeling the Bay Area locals are now going to be much more concerned about making plans in advance,” Cohen said of the “drive-up” tourism that has proved a lifeline for Napa’s wineries through the summer and early fall. “We’re assuming visitation will be down on top of our own capacity being down.”

Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga has continued to host guests almost exclusively outdoors since wineries in Napa reopened to the public in June, according to Vice President and General Manager Jay James. Screens can be pulled down to protect patrons in the event of cold weather, wind or rain, he said.

The winery has upped its supply of outdoor space heaters — an item in high demand for businesses in the hospitality sector nationwide. Even with those accommodations, James remains “concerned” about the impact of intensified coronavirus restrictions on visitation over the next few months, especially through the winter slow season.

“I am most concerned about getting to a point where we go back to … a complete shutdown,” James said. “Of course, if it has to happen for the greater good of public health, it is what it is, and we’ll deal with it. But we’re hoping to continue operating in some way.”

Register reporter Sarah Klearman contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join.



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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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