Dozens of people lined up to enter the Yuba Sutter Mall Wednesday morning. The mall is open again as the Yuba Sutter Marketplace, and under the authority of the local bi-county health department.
Most of the biggest chains like Sears and JC Penney’s are closed. But locally-owned stores like Diya were open and realistic about the possibility of a rapid uptick in traffic.
“Our business usually, this is like wedding attire and stuff,” said store owner Gurjot Johl. The store advertises as purveyors of high-end Indian clothing.
“Since the churches and everything is closed, no weddings are going on. It’s gonna be a minute til everything opens up,” Johl said.
The store had been open for all of two days when the state order to close came down a month and a half ago.
It’s reopened in defiance of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders as Yuba and Sutter counties attempt to strengthen some rules while relaxing others. Still, many residents and businesses are following the new order with caution as the counties reopen sooner than the rest of the state.
The Yuba Sutter Mall in Yuba CityBob Moffitt / CapRadio
The order released last week from the Yuba and Sutter county health officer allows some businesses that had been classified as non-essential to re-open, with a face covering now being mandatory in any areas where employees or customers cannot maintain six feet of separation.
The order gives local approval for massage therapists and hair and nail salons to reopen. It also allows restaurants to offer dine-in service.
For the first time, California’s case numbers decreased last week, although it was still the third-worst week of the pandemic. Some areas, like Tulare and Mariposa, have seen significant increases.
Newsom says Yuba and Sutter counties jumped the gun.
“They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk. We’ve been clear about that. Well aware of those examples. These are exceptions. These are real exceptions. The overwhelming majority of Californians are playing by the rules, doing the right thing,” he said Tuesday.
Chuck Smith is a spokesman for the bi-county office of emergency services and says it’s not the counties' intent to go up against the state, but more masks and social distancing will minimize the health risks of reopening nonessential businesses.
“It’s important that the business community and the people who are patronizing the businesses and people who are out follow the order as much as possible so we can go on to even the next phase of opening the community.”
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Yuba-Sutter Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu has said she was worried people would reach the point where they have to choose between medicine or food. Smith says it appears that time is now.
Under the new bi-county rules, people must wear masks in public when social distancing of six feet is unavailable. Under state rules, the mall is not essential and should still be closed.
Natasha Shelton is the mall’s general manager and says the local stores will be the primary option for at least a couple of days as national chains decide what they’re going to do.
“They’ve all taken a different approach. Some are saying that they’re waiting for the governor to lift the shelter in place order," Shelton said. "Others are saying that they want to see how the other retailers have done. Some are waiting for anchors to open.”
Footlocker and Zumiez will open Friday.
A massage space, barbershop and nail salon are all open despite warnings from their state licensing boards to remain closed. Shelton says the mall will follow bi-county health officer's orders to stay open, with mandatory social distancing or masks when that’s not possible.
The Nail Tech nail salon in Yuba CityBob Moffitt / CapRadio
Luu sent businesses throughout both counties a letter warning them to do better with wearing masks and social distancing. Otherwise they risk returning to stricter measures.
“I understand that some of your customers may strongly object to a facial covering requirement,” she wrote. “But the long-term safety of our community is at stake.”
Almost every store employee at the mall wore a mask, but many shoppers did not. On the first day of the mall’s reopening, Thomas Lozano and adult members of his family were there and all wore some type of face covering. The covering did not hide his disgust at what he saw.
“I was disappointed with the fact that not many customers wore masks. I thought that they would take more responsibility,” Lozano said.
While some residents were ready to return to the mall, others like Yuba City resident Susie Cauchi were shocked by the idea.
“I just finished cancer treatments,” she said. “I have to be extremely careful about contact with people.”
Interviewed through a meeting app, she says she has no plans to eat out much less go to the mall. Besides recovering from the cancer treatments, she has an auto-immune disorder. She says there are just too many ways to make contact.
“I don’t see how workers in a restaurant can socially distance, servers, even patrons," Cauchi said. "How do you eat with a face mask? You don’t. But also in salons you can’t. You have to be physically touching someone to be cutting their hair or performing services on their nails.”
The counties and state orders are in agreement that older people and those with weakened immune systems should stay home and that people should wear facial coverings when in public places. The state so far has only made face coverings a recommendation.
There are a few businesses that have remained open, or tried, in spite of the county orders and the state orders that are still in place. In Marysville, the Uppercut Barbershop never closed. A barber who rents a space there goes by the name Charlie Hustle. He says he will continue to cut hair despite receiving a phone call from the state telling him to stop and despite the risk.
“I am sensitive to the issue of everything going on. I know there’s a lot of people at risk. There’s a lot of people dying who shouldn’t be dying,” he said. ”But I feel like the way the media is portraying this. They’re instilling fear in a lot of people. Fear’s controlling a lot of what’s going on.”
The Uppercuts Barbershop in Yuba CityBob Moffitt / CapRadio
Uppercuts Barbershop is also open in the mall, and founder Randy Mitchell‘s daughter Maria Mitchell was cutting hair, just like the stores in Marysville, Wheatland and Rocklin have been throughout the shutdown. She was not wearing a mask.
“None of us have really worn masks,” she said. ”If they have Home Depot, Walmart and everything open, I think cutting hair is totally fine.”
Lisa Ringleberg of Olivehurst was getting her hair cut and agreed. She says neither she nor her five children wear masks in public, but they do stay away from people they don’t know.
“I’m perfectly healthy. We were just at the doctor’s not too long ago. My daughter sees Shriners. So we’re pretty much cleared. I’ve known (Maria’s) dad since junior high,” she said.
The state and county orders say everyone should socially distance from anyone who is not living in the same home, and that roughly 20 percent of people spreading the virus don’t know they have it.
It is still the only business to be cited for failing to comply with the bi-county health order.
While the Uppercut has stayed open against orders, nail and hair salons have remained closed. Amy Myers rents a space at the Broken Bristle Salon and Spa in Yuba City. She says she has received notice from the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology that there would be punishment if she were to resume practice. She agrees with Newsom’s stance, for some parts of the state.
“To an extent, there are places that shouldn't be opening that are, but honestly, how long are we going to sit in our house with maybe one confirmed case every two weeks,” Myers said. “It doesn’t make sense to just stay at home.”
She believes masks, social distancing and gloves can be used to keep customers and employees from possibly infecting each other.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We wear gloves anyways except for maybe giving haircuts but that wouldn’t be an issue wearing gloves. The way I feel about it is we have more contact in Walmart than we do with a single person in our chair at the salon.”
She receives unemployment insurance payments from the state, but says it’s not enough to feed her family.
“We’re ready to get back to work.” she said.
The massage therapist at Price Chiropractic in Yuba City has begun providing services on a limited basis. She did not respond to a request for comment.
On the other side of Gray Avenue, Healing Massage Wellness is open, but only to sell hand sanitizer and other products made by local businesses. Nancy Vong is the owner. She says the state orders have been tough on her and her customers.
Healing Massage Wellness owner Nancy Van prepares a table inside her business, which has been closed since mid March. She says her only source of income is selling products made by local businesses.Bob Moffitt/CapRadio
“It makes me emotional because I see a lot [of] people that have mental [health issues] ... that are lonely, that are elderly, that need that connection, that human touch. Some of my clients haven’t been doing so well,” Vong said.
She says she will be willing to give massages wearing gloves and a facial covering when the state says it’s OK, but she’s not willing to risk her license even with the bi-county order.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs said it could not make any of its six public information staffers available for an interview, but it did release a statement that says in part, “While we cannot discuss specific licensees, businesses that continue to put public health and safety at risk by not complying with the shelter in place order may be subject to disciplinary action from BBC [the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology], if circumstances warrant it.”
Restaurant owners have had to lay off people and deliver or offer takeout or curbside pickup. That changes now under the counties’ order, but the tables by the door at Rico’s Pizza on Garden Highway in Yuba City are still stacked on top of each other and the chairs are piled high in a corner.
Sara Saylors owns the place. Even though restaurants have lost 80-90 percent of their income and sit-down meals are now allowed, she’s not ready to unstack those chairs.
“We have a bathroom and people have to walk by all these tables. People are gonna be sitting here eating. People have to refill their drinks over here and there’s tables right here,” Saylors said. “Just trying to play it safe.”
Saylors wears a mask. Her brother Kenny says he usually does, but was not as he headed out the door with a delivery.
At Salsa’s Fresh Mexican Food, Krystien Farias is the owner and greeter.
“I’m being safe about it, washing my hands. I got sanitizer here. I have labels all over and I’m having social distancing,” she said.
Every other table has a sign that says “Please do not sit here.”
But she doesn’t wear a mask. “I feel very safe with the numbers (of new cases)” she said. “I’m gonna take that chance.”
The kitchen staff doesn’t wear a mask either, though Farias says they’re supposed to.The waitress does.
Customers Mark Indjer and Jay Anderson work together and were having lunch, but felt somewhat uneasy doing so. They’re both 59. Their masks rested on the table next to their meals.
Both discussed the governor’s response to the Yuba-Sutter area’s attempts to open their economies.
“I don’t think there is a perfect answer. This is a test of sorts,” Injer said. “ No one truly knows what’s gonna happen.”
“The jury’s out. This is a pandemic It’s no joke. So we are still in the unknown area,” Anderson said. “Get back to me in November, OK? Right now, I’m being as careful as I can.”
At the Happy Viking bar and restaurant, the bar is still closed to alcohol sales inside and will stay that way if the owners want to keep their liquor license.
The California Alcohol Beverage Control did a sweep of bars in Yuba and Sutter counties to remind them that consumption on site was prohibited. ABC says no businesses were cited.
Happy Viking Co-owner Sandy Drown told two men they could have their drinks served to them outside in to-go containers, but they couldn’t drink at the bar.
“I just wanted to let you know before you come in,” she said. The men first suggested they drink their beers in their trucks during their meals, then decided to try another bar.
Sandy and her husband Chris say they’re happy to have their dining room open, even if they must limit the number of open tables.They have taken precautions a step further.
“All employees (in the) front of house and back of house are wearing gloves and masks and properly changing their gloves,” Chris Drown said. “And we are sanitizing and sterilizing every surface as much as we can as often as possible.”
As for the county order for people to wear masks when they couldn’t be more than six feet from each other?
“Our Sutter County sheriff told us not to police other people wearing masks,” Sandee Drown said. “We have a protocol as to what is proper. Hopefully everybody’s doing the same as we’re doing. We want to make sure we’re protecting our staff and our customers on our end.”
Of the restaurant’s 47 employees, 39 haven’t worked for a month and a half. Drown noted that Dr. Luu is an expert in infectious diseases and should be trusted to make local decisions.