The studio at Tahoe Mountain Fitness in Truckee is eerily silent. Heavy bags suspended from the rafters stand still, waiting for the day they can once again be sent swinging with every right hook and roundhouse kick thrown their way. The booming music that usually pumps through the speakers has been silenced and the high-intensity energy that typically buzzes throughout the building absent.
Owner Holly Hust is anxious for the county to give the word that fitness classes can resume, but knowing that won’t come until the later phase of stage three has given her and her husband/co-owner Jonathan Van Roo time to rework their business model.
“Of course, staff and client safety and well-being is priority,” she said. “But we can’t wait to reopen.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday declared that counties already approved for accelerated reopening may enter the early phase of stage three, with barbershops and hair/nail salons now permitted to open for the first time in over two months. Houses of worship also may reopen, however, all newly permitted entities must implement strict health and safety guidelines.
As a fitness center, TMF falls into the latter stage three reopening category, joining other “high-risk” businesses like tattoo parlors, bars, gaming areas, public swimming pools, and playgrounds. The opening of smaller group gathering sites like movie theaters are also later in stage three, while stage four will begin to allow large gathering sites like stadiums, arenas, concert halls, and convention centers.
For TMF, reopening will mean smaller class sizes, floor markings to ensure proper social distancing between participants, and 6 feet of space between spin bikes, heavy bags, and pilates reformers. The studio will close for deep cleaning between classes, and the number of people inside at any given time will be much smaller. All the effort will be worth it, Hust and Van Roo say, just to be able to feel the positive energy flowing through the studio once again.
When the governor’s nonessential business closure order came in back in March, they began offering pre-recorded and livestream online classes. Even after stage three fully goes into effect, Hust and Van Roo plan to continue with the same options so folks who are high-risk or aren’t comfortable with being in a public setting can comfortably work out from home.
“Exercise in a time like this goes beyond physical,” Hust explained. “It’s proven to soften the effects of stress, improve sleep, strengthen immunity. It combats a lot of outside stressors that we are encountering in a major way right now as an entire world culture — anxiety, fear, etc. [It] makes us better versions of ourselves. The better versions of people on the planet, the better for our planet as a whole! That feels like success to me.”
Over in the Basin, Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema owners Melissa and Steven Siig are also looking forward to the next phase. Although it was originally stated that stage three could be months off, Newsom had last week announced that it could come in a few weeks’ time. With Tuesday’s announcement, it came earlier than anticipated, although there is still no word as to when counties might be permitted to the latter part of stage three. In the meantime, the Siigs are taking steps to do what they can to keep business going.
“It’s not about the money,” Melissa said. “It’s about being able to offer something to the community.”
The Tahoe City cinema has been offering virtual screenings of movies since the initial closures, and at the onset of stage two, the Siigs opened their doors to sell concessions. Part of receiving a loan under the Payment Protection Program required that the owners bring two of their employees back to work so selling concessions just made sense. Guests can pick-up movie theater snacks like popcorn, candy, and even packaged beer and wine.
When word finally comes down that they can reopen, Melissa expects to lose approximately 50% seating capacity in the theater, which sits about 100.
“I’m definitely worried about the future,” she said. “Will 50 people even come?”
Like every other industry, the theater will have to closely adhere to new protocols, including ensuring guests follow proper social distancing.
“My husband is literally going to take seats out of the theater,” Melissa said, explaining that the remaining seats will be in groups of two and four.
She commended the measures the state has taken in dealing with the coronavirus, but noted that at some point, “we’re going to have to learn to coexist with this virus … whatever that means.
“You have to pivot to survive,” Melissa told Moonshine Ink.
And pivot, they have: The Siigs are now working on offering a drive-in movie in the Cobblestone Center parking lot, which can fit about 20 cars at a time. Since it would cost in the range of $10,000 to purchase a screen — not the kind of purchase many businesses would like to make during this time — the Siigs partnered with officials from Homewood, who donated use of their screen in exchange for sponsorship. They hope to have it up and running in the near future.
In an area with an economy rooted in tourism, the hotel and hospitality business has been hit particularly hard. Alex Mourelatos has run his family’s Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort for 15 of the last 40 years. The lakefront hotel in Tahoe Vista sees its peak season in summer and is largely visited by families returning year after year.
“We track occupancy technically in our system and 85% of my occupancy in July is a return guest,” Mourelatos said. “They’re all coming here like it’s their second home. They’re coming here as families; 90% of them are families.”
If stage three opens up in time for the summer vacation season, guests at the resort can expect to find a vast number of changes. The front door will now be locked and check-in will take place outside. Front desk staff will use a video doorbell which will enable them to have a visual of those checking in. Should staff suspect that those checking in may be unwell, they will go outside and take the guests’ temperatures. If a temperature is above normal, the guests will be denied check-in.
“My goal in these protocols is to, it’s not just social distancing, it’s to eliminate the contact between guests and employees,” he explained. “[The] front door will literally be locked, the common area will be closed off to access. No more … board games, sitting around the fireplace … all those common amenities that people [come in and touch].”
With such a high percentage of returning families, Mourelatos has faith in his guests’ ability to self-regulate when it comes to new protocols because he knows that they will want to keep their own families safe.
“Some of these things are optional, but when they check in they have an option of taking a mask and two sterilization kits,” he said. “We are also putting cleaning kits because we are not doing daily services … We are putting in the room with a sign, two bottles — one’s a cleaner, one’s a disinfectant — with a microfiber towel with a sign that says ‘this is your in-room cleaning kit.’ … We’re saying clean your room, put your towels in the bag, text us when you leave.”
While the resort will be pulling shared outdoor gear like the water trampoline and kids’ sand toys, it will continue to offer kayaks and hydro bikes. Additional barbecues and sand pits will be added to better accommodate a greater number of people, and guests are being asked to do their part also by bringing in their own food. The resort will provide a directory of restaurants offering takeout and delivery, in addition to a guide telling which recreational areas are open or closed.
“We’re not going to be able to do what we used to do,” said Mourelatos, explaining that the resort typically has a 96% occupancy rate during summer — a number he says is unheard of. “We’re never going to be there again because of this disease … We have to swallow that pill; that’s a huge pill.”
Reopening does not mean a return to business as usual; a scary prospect looking toward the future. For folks in the food and restaurant industry, many of whom have offered takeout and delivery since the original closure mandate went into effect, the latter part of stage two brought with it the possibility for in-house dining. Even though many have reopened their modified dining rooms, half-capacity isn’t going to cut it long term as long as social distancing requirements are in place, which includes the entirety of the imminent stage three.
“We appreciate the community rolling with us as we reinvent our business model,” Alibi Ale Works owner Kevin Drake told Moonshine Ink in a recent interview.
With Alibi locations in Truckee and Incline Village, Drake has worked to adapt his dining rooms to reopen for the later stage two (see Leveling Up). Despite reduced occupancy, he has had to hire extra help to ensure that all new health and safety requirements are met, which means an increased labor cost. Normally a self-proclaimed optimist, in current times Drake finds himself faced with no choice but to be a realist.
“Fall is a little scary right now,” said Drake, looking farther down the line. “You start to think about the worst.”