After a year-and-a-half of opening and closing, enforcing COVID-19 health guidelines and adapting from traditional ways of serving customers, Bainbridge Island businesses reopened fully to the public last week.
At Pegasus Coffee House, owner Matt Grady said the reopening aligned with them getting a liquor license, which had been on hold since the transfer of ownership at the start of the year. At last week’s Art Walk, they soft-launched beer and wine service, which Grady said “did quite well.”
“It was fun to have a patio full of people eating, drinking and enjoying themselves. We haven’t had that many people on the patio in a long time. I think there’s just an optimism people have right now with the reopening.”
As far as continued mask and distancing measures, Grady said they are consistent with state guidelines.
“Whatever the governor is continuing to ask, we’re doing,” he said. “For fully vaccinated people, there’s really no restrictions as far as we’re concerned.”
Grady said staffing has been an issue “to some extent” as Pegasus recently opened a pop-up trailer on Winslow Way.
“We’ve been trying to staff for both locations, which has made it a little bit harder,” he said. “We have to staff and train to keep both locations going. We’re probably a few people short of where we should be.”
On Madison Avenue, steakhouse and whiskey bar The Islander saw an uptick in business on 4th of July weekend, co-owner Cheston Overman said.
“The weekend itself was very busy,” he said. “I think Friday was our busiest day so far. We’re just sort of feeling out and seeing what the general public’s doing. People can sit at the bar now, which is kind of a game-changer.”
Overman said he isn’t requiring masks or distancing for customers but instead is going with the “honor system.” His reasoning included Bainbridge being one of the highest vaccinated areas in the state. He also said he has put his own proof of vaccination on the restaurant’s wall so customers can see it for themselves.
The size of The Islander is relatively small with only nine tables and seven seats at the bar. Overman said they don’t really have to worry about being understaffed since there are only three of them.
While most business owners are relieved to bring everyone back in without restrictions, some are taking a slow approach to gauge what the public is comfortable with.
At Eagle Harbor Books, owner Jane Danielson said they recently had their first in-person author event since the pandemic began in March 2020. She said she doesn’t want to plan a bunch of events because staff is still considering what their guidelines should be.
“We’re still a little leary about bringing crowds together,” she said. “The one we did have was spaced far apart in the store. Going forward, I think we can have more crowded events. The rules allow us to do that and we’re looking at that.”
Danielson said the store will continue advising mask-wearing due to many of the store’s visitors being under age 12. The store offers disposable masks for those who don’t bring one in.
“I think we’re going to reassess that in another week or two,” she said. “We’re concerned about the delta variant. Our staff is going to continue wearing masks.”
She said even though guidelines allow for 100% capacity, the store doesn’t typically get more than 50%. They only get to full capacity when they hold events.
Over the 4th of July weekend, Danielson said they were “fairly busy.”
“Our weekends are getting stronger and stronger as the summer progresses. People are still coming over from Seattle in large numbers to shop on Bainbridge.”
The bookstore also is experiencing difficulties hiring a full staff.
“We have numerous seasonal workers this summer. In the past, we very rarely hire people just for the summer. Normally, when we post a job for the bookstore we have more applicants than we can even interview. We’re not getting that anymore, and I don’t know why.”
At Island Fitness, co-owner Michael Rosenthal said the pandemic has been tough but things are “trending in the right direction.”
Rosenthal said about 40% of their members have stayed, and he’s hopeful that some will return once summer turns intoin the fall when people will want to workout inside again.
“We’re operating at a pretty significant loss,” he said. “Recovery is a lot slower than we had anticipated. Some people have changed their habits. People had fifteen months to refine that, and a lot of people were successful at it.
“A lot of what drives our business is the social aspect of exercising. I do see a path to profitability by the end of the year. You have to be optimistic if you’re a small business owner, and we always have been.”
He also said the parks department purchasing the Bainbridge Athletic Club could affect their business.
“We have no idea how that’s going to impact us,” Rosenthal said. “That could mess with our projections.”
Rosenthal said the facility will now be able to hold their in-person group fitness classes, although they are only operating at about two-thirds capacity because “we just don’t want to freak people out.”
“We can have up to thirty people in a room working out and breathing hard,” he said. “We’re not going to that full capacity right away. We just got to measure everybody’s comfort level. After 15 months you don’t just jump right back in without some kind of ramp-up.”
Rosenthal said equipment is still spaced 6 feet apart, and staff is starting to bring more cardio equipment back. Masks are not required for those vaccinated and in order for staff to not wear masks, they have to show proof of vaccination. He also said they invested “heavily” in air scrubbers during the pandemic to maintain clean air throughout the facility.
As for employees, “We’re not suffering by being unable to find staff,” he said. “Everyone we invited back was eager to get back.”
Meanwhile, the BI Chamber of Commerce recently released information on business reopenings. Its newsletter says that businesses adapted, added new eCommerce efforts, curbside pickup and delivery options, put up sneezeguards, and bought and used all types of cleaning products. To support other local businesses they bought gift cards and ordered lots of take-out.
One lingering issue, the newsletter states, is not enough workers. Many are still enjoying extended unemployment benefits. The Washington Hospitality Association estimates that the industry needs about 80,000 more workers right now. So even though businesses could be serving at full capacity some don’t have enough employees to.
Some of the new rules include:Restaurant, bars, movie theaters and most businesses can be at 100% capacity with no restrictions, unless they choose to require their own stronger rules.
Fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear facial coverings, with a few exceptions, such as hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, nursing homes, etc.
People who are not vaccinated are still required to wear masks in public places.
Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is still required on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation.
Some activities may require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. The state recommends but does not mandate these for large outdoor and indoor events. Only the largest indoor events (those with 10,000 plus simultaneous participants) are restricted to 75% capacity unless proof of vaccination is provided.