ENCINITAS — Bracing for the economic downfalls of a third county-wide shutdown, Encinitas business owners are preparing for a drastically pared down holiday season — a slump some establishments may not survive.
As of Wednesday, the COVID-19 case rate in Encinitas is 5.9%, placing the city in the red tier of the state’s tracking system, with just 26 new cases reported in the previous week and only 570 total cases since the pandemic began, according to San Diego County.
However, since San Diego County entered purple tier status on Nov. 10, Encinitas is now subject to state restrictions regardless of the city’s individual case rate.
Traditionally, consumer spending and tourism increase during the holidays, said Irene Puyn, executive director of Encinitas 101 MainStreet Association. This year, businesses without the ability to adapt will likely struggle to remain open through the new year.
“For some businesses, this wasn’t that big of a deal because they had already invested in building outdoor spaces and can still enjoy quite a capacity outside,” Puyn said. “However, for businesses that don’t have the capability for outdoor space, this is really, really detrimental. They may have no other option but to close their doors with zero income.”
On Nov. 17, business owners from cities across North County pushed back, criticizing the County Board of Supervisors and claiming their businesses should not be punished for outbreaks at private gatherings.
“It’s difficult when you’re a business doing your due diligence, making sure your space is constantly being sanitized and cleaned, adhering to the six-foot social distancing procedures, and then you have to shut down again because people outside of your business are still meeting without masks,” Puyn said.
Despite resistance, County is stepping up enforcement of regulations, encouraging local law enforcement agencies to enforce the public health order, as well as issuing cease and desist orders to local businesses failing to comply.
The county issued the first cease and desist order on Nov. 16 to Shelter Bar, an Encinitas business allegedly conducting indoor operations in violation of county regulations.
The order, taped to the Shelter Bar’s front door, states:
“As the responsible party for your bar/restaurant, it is your duty to ensure that the Orders’ are complied with. If you do not comply, we will take actions necessary to enforce the Orders. Failure to comply may result in criminal misdemeanor citations with a $1,000 fine for each violation.”
At the bottom of the order reads, “CC: City of Encinitas,” though the city did not issue the order itself.
Recently re-elected Mayor of Encinitas, Catherine Blakespear, is keenly aware of the challenges local businesses are facing as well as the mounting frustration among the business community.
“My heart goes out to these businesses that are really struggling. I know it’s tough,” Blakespear said. “We are concerned about our business community and want our businesses to survive this. They’re a critical part of our city and we’ve been assisting as much as we can and will continue to do everything we can.”
According to Blakespear, on Dec. 9 the Encinitas City Council will review the city’s economic response to COVID, discussing additional reimbursements for establishments installing outdoor canopies and heating apparatuses, as well as further financial grants for businesses in need.
“Watching the numbers all around us increase so quickly is alarming because ultimately, we aren’t an isolated bubble that can escape larger trends, however, I am heartened that we have lower case numbers relative to North County,” Blakespear said. “The city has been doing a lot to encourage safe behavior such as wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing because we recognize when we slow the spread, the faster our economy can open.”
With the holidays approaching, both local businesses and the city have canceled public events including the annual Encinitas Holiday Parade, typically attracting thousands of people to the downtown business district.
However, neither the city, county, nor law enforcement has the authority to shut down peaceful rallies or protests held outdoors as seen throughout 2020, attracting hundreds and one occasion, thousands of individuals to Encinitas.
While the county and city may cancel official events and deny permits to large gatherings, according to Blakespear, “it would be inappropriate for the city to direct Sheriff Deputies to arrest those expressing First Amendment rights, whether they’re protesting beach closures or Black Lives Matter.”
“You hope that people are expressing those rights in good faith,” Blakespear said, reiterating her belief that the best way to reopen the economy is to stop rising case numbers, which according to the County’s October data, were linked to private gatherings.
For now and the foreseeable holiday season, nonessential businesses such as restaurants, places of worship, bars, movie theaters, gyms, and museums are required to transition to outdoor-only operations.