The sense of unfairness among small retail business owners around the Bay Area has been growing as the initial virus panic fades, and after eight weeks in which big-box retail stores and grocers like Walmart and Whole Foods have been allowed to remain open, often selling "non-essential" goods.
On Monday, flower shops in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties will get to reopen for curbside pickup and sales along with the vast majority of other retailers, but the same will not yet be true for three other Bay Area counties and the City of Berkeley where stricter, Phase 1 sheltering orders are remaining in place a bit longer (pending any new revised orders from those counties' health officers).
That isn't sitting well with Ashby Flowers co-owner Marcy Simon, whose Berkeley shop sits next door to an Amazon-owned Whole Foods location, where flowers are also for sale. Ashby Flowers has been allowed to stay open for deliveries only — KPIX reports that other flower shops elsewhere in Alameda County have begun doing curbside pickups but that is not clear from the most recent county health order issued last week. The City of Berkeley's public health department, which acts independently of the county, is maintaining no curbside retail reopenings for now, and Simon is getting impatient.
"At the beginning we immediately closed our store, shut off our lights, put up messages to the community saying 'we’re all in this together and we’ll be back.'" She adds, "I think people are going to start defying the rules much more now that Tesla has done that, for sure. We won’t, but others will."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a stand against Alameda County this week and ultimately got his way in reopening the Fremont Tesla plant — even though it seemed like the county was headed toward allowing manufacturing to restart soon anyway. But actions without consequences like that breed insurrection, and it's likely we're going to see a lot of other business owners rebelling in similar ways given the financial stress of the last two months.
And it's doubly frustrating for Bay Area business owners given that other parts of the state are getting to reopen things faster. Governor Gavin Newsom made announcements about curbside retail being allowed to start last Friday, and now 18 rural counties across California are already moving into the second half of Phase 2 in which dine-in restaurants get to reopen. This acceleration is based on the relatively low prevalence of the coronavirus in those counties thus far — and based on their being able to document hospital capacity to handle a potential surge in cases, if it comes.
As one Yuba County resident told a reporter last week, upon the reopening of a shopping mall there in defiance of the state, "It’s always the big box stores that can stay open, and not the small ones."
Last week, Ms. Simon told a reporter from ABC 7 that she planned to reopen Ashby Flowers for curbside pickups on May 8 along with other florists in the state just in time for Mother's Day, in defiance of Alameda County. But she later relented and chose to remain closed.
In announcing the loosening of retail restrictions in his county on Wednesday, San Mateo County health officer Dr. Scott Morrow said, "The virus continues to circulate in our community, and this increase in interactions among people is likely to spread the virus at a higher rate. Whether these modifications allow the virus to spread out of control, as we saw in February and March and resulted in the first shelter in place order, is yet to be seen."
As of Thursday morning, San Francisco had 1,999 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 65 people hospitalized, and Alameda County has 2,178 cases with 79 people hospitalized. San Mateo County has 1,536 cases with 63 in the hospital.