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As Arizona reopens, Flagstaff businesses follow suit

As the state of Arizona allows more businesses to reopen, Flagstaff businesses vary in how they are restarting operations.

On Monday, the state's restrictions on in-person dining at restaurants came to an end, and on Wednesday, pools, gyms and spas were allowed to reopen.

Following Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision on Tuesday, the Flagstaff Athletics Club announced it would be reopening on May 18 while the Flagstaff location of the Valley of the Sun YMCA opened their doors on Wednesday.

But it appears the Aquaplex will remain closed, at least for the time being.

Katie Smetana, Senior Vice President for Operations at the Valley of the Sun YMCA, said they have taken a number of measures to keep members safe who may be returning to their facilities.

That includes limiting the number of people who are allowed in the facility exercising at any one time and the amount of time members are allowed in, Smetana said.

Smetana said they haven’t restarted any workout classes, and those will have to change to allow staff to clean equipment between classes and reduce the number of people in each session.

Unlike other places where people exercise indoors, Smetana said the YMCA in Flagstaff has actually remained open throughout the pandemic as staff continued to provide child care. And that has meant staff have had a lot of practice following the safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

When it comes to restaurants, some began in–person and indoor dining on Monday, confident in the safety measures they have put in place, while others continue to limit service to delivery and take-out only.

Jeff Thorsett, owner of Flagstaff Brewing Company, said they decided to open only the patio for sit-down dining on Monday and are waiting to open up the interior. At the same time, Thorsett said it is tough to be opening the patio in an environment where the number of COVID cases are continuing to increase across the state.

Mike and Ronda’s The Place on Milton Road restarted indoor dining at the beginning of the week with just 30% of their normal sitting capacity so that customers can have the right amount of distance between each other, said owner Missy Heal. The other 70% of their tables and chairs are all now stacked in her garage.

“I want people to know we're serious about safety, so we’ll do whatever the public wants to see,” Heal said.

She has also had all her employees take an online course on how to properly work and stay safe during the pandemic and she is reminding employees to do things like not touch their masks as that is just like touching their faces, Heal said.

Even so, Heal said business has been slow these first few days.

“There's not a lot of people going out right now and the people who are going out are a little hesitant,” Heal said. “At most there's two families in each room because no one is going out right now.” Some customers have come in not sure if they want to stay until they see how empty the restaurant is and decide it is safe to eat, she said.

But while that may not be great for their bottom line, Heal said there is an upside. The slow restart is giving her employees a good period to get used to all the new precautions they are taking while business is slow so they can keep those measures rigorous when the restaurant gets busier.

Things were somewhat busier on the patio at Flagstaff Brewing Company.

“We just wanted to open the patio because we have better control of it and we can maintain that level with the staff we have, following CDC guidelines, and also maintain what we feel is appropriate for us to keep customers and employees safe,” Thorsett said.

Before they reopened, Thorsett said he and his staff broke out the tape measures and decided they could seat 25% of their normal patio capacity while still providing enough space for proper social distancing.

So far, Thorsett said business this week has been pretty good. They have tripled their sales this week over what they sold last week, although he said that’s still not much given they had previously been doing only about 5% of their normal business.

Even so, Thorsett said he wants to be careful and doesn’t want to see the patio come to look like the photos of some Phoenix-area restaurants he has seen on social media that were crowded with customers.

In fact, Thorsett said they actually turned away a group of 12 young people who wanted to sit together because it would have violated their safety guidelines.

“None of them were wearing masks; none of them really seemed to care. We don't need to have that in our establishment and I wouldn't want to see that in any place I want to visit either,” Thorsett said. “It’s so hard to balance those two things where you've got to have a little control over the situation without making the customers feel uncomfortable.”

Across the city at Satchmo’s, owner Jamie Thousand said they are still holding off on in-person dining for a time. When they eventually do restart, Thousand said they will likely begin with patio only dining in part because of how small their interior dining area is.

As they look at reopening, Thousand said he and other owners have received a lot of guidance from the National Restaurant Association and they are also talking among themselves as to best practices.

Over the weekend, about 40 restaurant owners joined together in a video call to hear from each other and talk about what measures they should be taking to keep employees and customers safe.

“I’m on the phone with colleagues and friends at least two to three times a day right now, anything from talking about [Paycheck Protection Program] loans to COVID safety. But what we realized is we needed a space for restaurants to have a good discussion, and not just any restaurant but what Flagstaff restaurants were doing,” Thousand said. “So we kind of created our own guidance as well.”

In the meantime, Thousand said they are planning on reopening during the next two weekends for pick-up service only. Like many restaurants, he said they have seen prices on many of their ingredients and foods they make go through the roof, with others nearly impossible to find.

Beef is especially difficult to get shipments of, so Thousand said they have had to get creative.

“We fly in crawfish once a year and once a year only from Louisiana for Mardi Gras, so I sat down with my management team and bounced ideas off each other and we went ‘Well, let’s do Mardi Gras in May,” Thousand said. “We're chefs, this is what we do, let’s think outside the box.”

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