Outside is in.
At least in Escondido, where the city has temporarily relaxed its land-use rules to allow businesses that traditionally operate indoors to set up shop in outdoor parking areas and sidewalks.
Under the initiative, businesses such as restaurants, hair and nail salons, barber shops and fitness gyms can operate outdoors, since state health officials ordered the shutdown of indoor operations by non-essential businesses in mid-July. No specific timeline has been set for lifting the order.
The rule changes were approved by the city council in May as part of a business recovery strategy meant to help merchants navigate the shut-down orders and economic turmoil triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
At a meeting last week, the council extended the rules allowing outdoor operations for an additional 90 days, which will run into November. The council also expanded the types of activities allowed under the temporary use permits to include other professional, recreational and instructional services, as well as outdoor assembly for church services, service club meetings and protests, according to a city staff report.
Wednesday’s unanimous council action also allows agricultural operations to conduct such activities as roadside sales, hikes, tours and picnics. Breweries, bars and wine tasting rooms can operate outdoors if they partner with a restaurant or catering company to offer food.
Businesses that want to offer services outside must fill out a one-page form and provide a simple sketch of how their outdoor facilities will be arranged, said Amber Tarrac, the city’s deputy director of economic development. The city can turn the application around and issue a permit in as little as one business day. So far, the city has granted 34 temporary use permits for outdoor operations.
Other North County cities have used Escondido’s initiative as a model to launch similar programs, said Tarrac.
“Businesses are the core of our local economy here in the city. We are truly a partner here in supporting them in this difficult time,” Tarrac said.
Along with the temporary outdoor permits, the city reduced traffic on Grand Avenue to one lane in each direction, providing additional space for restaurants to offer outside dining. But businesses across the city have embraced the new outdoor ambiance.
At Frutimania Juices and Delights on West Felicita Avenue, owned by Angelica Sierra and her mother, the shop has set up five outside tables with a tent to provide shade. The shop offers smoothies, juices, salads, sandwiches and breakfast items.
Having the tent and outdoor tables has helped increase the shop’s visibility and attracted more walk-up business, Sierra said.
The permit process went very smoothly with the city, Sierra said, and she plans to continue outdoor service “until we are able to open normally.”
Escondido’s Cocoon Training Center, which offers crossfit training, has endured a nomadic existence over the past several months, after closing for three months in March based on state and county health orders. The gym lost its space and moved to a couple of different temporary locations before finding its current home in a fenced parking lot on West Vermont Avenue, said Jessica Richenbacher, who owns and operates the business with her husband, Ian.
The fitness center runs classes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and stows its equipment overnight in a storage container set up on the site.
The couple feels fortunate to have retained most of the fitness center’s members through the ups and downs of the past several months, said Richenbacher. “They really supported us,” she said, and the fitness center has in turn tried to provide a sense of normalcy for its clients.
The city made it easy for the fitness center to process its outdoor permit application and related documents, which in all took about two days, she said. Like all merchants in town, Richenbacher doesn’t know how long the fitness center will have to operate outdoors. But she has no intention of giving up.
“As long as stuff keeps getting thrown at us, we’ll keep adapting,” she said.
Locs of Luv Salon, which has been in business in Escondido for eight years, has also adapted to the new rules and moved its styling chairs outside, said owner Cathy Thomas. The salon on South Escondido Boulevard has put up tents to shade its outdoor chairs, and sees customers by appointment, primarily in the morning when the air is coolest.
The salon strictly follows safety protocols to protect both staff and customers, said Thomas. Salon staff ask clients if they are having any covid-related symptoms, check their temperature when they arrive, and require that masks be worn at all times. Restrooms are disinfected after each use.
“There are no shortcuts, it really does slow you down,” she said.
One advantage for Locs of Luv is that it specializes in Sisterlocks, a type of hair style featuring tiny style-able locks, according to Thomas. Stylists use a special tool on customers’ hair, but they don’t apply heat, water or hair products. That reduces the amount of equipment and supplies that must be set up and packed away each day.
“My hopes are we will be able to get back in the salon soon. But it’s anyone’s guess as to how soon we’ll get back in,” Thomas said. “For right now, I take it one day at a time and pray for the best.”
Along with businesses, the city has also shifted operations outdoors for fitness classes run by the recreation division, said Danielle Lopez, assistant director of community services. The classes are being held in parks, at City Hall and such facilities as the hockey arena and amphitheater at Kit Carson Park.
For more information and to register, visit www.escondido.org/recreation.