After 15 months of requiring businesses to close or offer limited service, San Francisco, which has surpassed other major U.S. cities by vaccinating 70 percent of eligible residents against Covid-19, will reopen today with businesses at 100 percent capacity and vaccinated patrons going without masks.
At least that is the city’s plan. But businesses offered an array of their own plans — from partial to full openings and requiring various degrees of mask-wearing. What they shared was an exuberance about the pandemic coming to an end.
“I’m very, very, very excited, because at the beginning we didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Francisco Hernandez, the 64-year-old owner of El Metate at 22nd and Bryant streets.
Exceptions to the full reopening include schools, childcare and public transportation, all of which will require masks but no social distancing, according to a mayoral release.
Muni has not disclosed how long masks will be required, but BART is requiring masks until Sept. 13.
Small business owners like Hernández have different plans for the long-awaited reopening. But each expressed a sense of satisfaction and excitement to reopen at full capacity — and an overwhelming gratitude toward the customers and supporters who kept them afloat through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Mission’s history as an entertainment district has been severely compromised, and that you can go out and have a good time without worrying about side effects should be really helpful to people recovering their losses here,” said Chris Collins, a board member of the Mission Merchants Association.
Hernandez agreed. For him, El Metate has been his life — and, during the pandemic, it was on life support.
“It’s like if you have a child, and that child is growing and growing, and you’re just happy that it’s doing well,” said Hernández, who opened the restaurant in 2002. “And every time that I go out, people yell at me, ‘Metate!’ They don’t call me by my name. They just call me by ‘Metate,’ because they know me by ‘Metate,’ and I feel proud of that.”
When the pandemic shut down businesses last March, he worried about how his staff needed the jobs so they could eat. The thought of letting them go brought him to tears.
He’s ready to reopen immediately, without the masks, and at 100 percent capacity. The only vestige of the pandemic will be paper tableware so he doesn’t have to worry about his dishwasher, he said.
Gracias Madre, a restaurant specializing in plant-based Mexican cuisine, plans to reopen at 100 percent capacity between June 23 and 28, to allow time for hiring and training, general manager Rodrigo Garcia said.
Like most businesses, Gracias Madre will depend on an honor system that assumes guests who are unvaccinated will wear masks. Staff workers will be wearing masks, he said.
Garcia and other business owners expressed confusion about the covid prevention requirements for workers.
“The information has still been a little bit fragmented,” he said. “We have been sort of having to fish around to get details.”
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, an agency that aims to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses, requires that employees still wear masks. The standards board overseeing that agency rescinded a set of safety standards that would have removed the requirement to mask for vaccinated residents.
However, hopes are high that will change after Thursday.
The board will vote Thursday on lifting the mask requirement. Then, the Office of Administrative Law has 10 days to approve it, said Luke Brown, a public information officer for California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Gov. Gavin Newsom “will follow up with the appropriate action needed to ensure the new regulations take effect promptly” after the Thursday meeting, a spokesperson for Newsom’s office said.
The Roxie, taking into account the comfort levels of staff and patrons, will continue at half capacity, said Lex Sloan, executive director.
Sloan hopes to reopen at full capacity by the end of a summer, in part depending on when BART will offer late-night service.
“Having local filmmakers see their work on the big screen for the first time and watching their movies with strangers has been so incredible,” Sloan said. “It’s made the challenges we’ve faced over the past year totally totally worth it.”
The reopening has been especially long-awaited by business owners in the city’s nightlife scene.
“Imagine your personal income was reduced to 5 percent of normal, but nearly all bills stayed the same,” said Devon Dossett, a manager at DNA Lounge, a nightclub with a restaurant in the neighboring SoMa District. “Yeah, we can reduce staffing, but there’s events insurance, utility bills, paying the staff that we have running; that’s a year and a half of barely income.”
Closed for 15 months, the club is having its grand reopening on Friday, following state guidelines, with only staff wearing masks, Dossett said.
But it’s been a scramble. The large numbers of restaurants, bars and nightclubs trying to reopen at the same time has put a huge demand on the related industries that serve nightlife, such as the booking industry, Dossett said.
A block up from the DNA Lounge, the drag-show nightclub and cabaret Oasis is also planning for a full reopening on June 26, Pink Saturday, the day before Pride. They will require proof of vaccination to enter, owner D’Arcy Drollinger said.
“That’s how The Giants have been opening up for people. That’s how Juanita MORE! is doing the Pride party. We want to take care of the community,” Drollinger said.
And the community has taken care of Oasis.
Community members have supported the venue through numerous initiatives launched to keep it float, including Meals of Heels and Oasis TV!. And, when it was set to shutter for good, a 12-hour drag telethon fundraised more than $250,000.
Many have volunteered and work for free. There’s also Drollinger, who works 14 hours a day without a paycheck in the hope that it will pay off.
“I really hope it will be a roaring ’20s all over again,” he said. “For all those that struggled through this Wild West, sort of, where no one knew what was going to happen or what was going on, for all of us, I think there is a level of relief and a level of satisfaction being able to make it through, but also, the work starts now, and it isn’t going to just become like it was before.”
Iron and Mettle, a women-only gym on Valencia Street between 24th and 25th streets, is planning to make masks optional indoors, owner and head coach Danielle Repetti said.
She also thinks they’ll increase the capacity from 50 percent to 75 percent. But she polled her members and said she will wait before jumping back to 100 percent to respect people’s concerns.
Repetti opened her gym in October 2019, a safe place for women to train in a supportive environment. After last year’s shelter-in-place, her members supported her. Seventy percent of patrons joined the online training model leading up to the construction of a parklet in July, she said.
Repetti offered a cheaper price, but members often paid in full to support her business, she said.
“I was thankful to have a community of supportive women,” she said.
They’d move 1,000 pounds of equipment outside a day. They got stronger, and it became 1,500 pounds.
“I find that gyms that have this small-knit community, where I know all of the clients, I know their husbands, their kids … they know this stuff about me … faired better than the non-personal 24-Hour Fitness types of gyms where it’s like you’re a number,” she said.
“Tomorrow might not be a 100 percent change for us, but I’m so excited for what it represents and what is next.”