Cautious Retailers Take Measured Approach to Reopening in Reno/Sparks

When Governor Sisolak made the unexpected announcement on Thursday, May 7, that Phase 1 of his Roadmap to Recovery plan would start a full week earlier than expected, local retailers deemed “nonessential” just weeks ago were still adjusting to the return of curbside service, only reinstated just the previous week.

The Phase 1 reopening isn’t as simple as turning on the lights and unlocking the doors. It involves quickly rethinking their businesses in accordance with new restrictions: just 50 percent capacity (as determined by fire code) and masks for all employees (with customer masks being strongly encouraged).

At Reno’s local, independent bookstore, Sundance Books and Music, owner Christine Kelly says she and her staff were caught somewhat off guard by the Phase 1 announcement. Despite Sundance’s physical location being fully closed for nearly two months, Kelly has been able to keep all employees on staff, working with customers online and by phone. Even the ability to offer curbside sales made a big difference to the store’s business.

“A lot of our customers prefer to just swing by and pick their purchases up rather than having us mail them, paying shipping costs and waiting a day or two for them.”

The team had just gotten into the groove of curbside service when the reopening announcement came on May 7. The restrictions mean Sundance won’t reopen until May 18.

“The announcement was just too short notice,” Kelly said. “Originally, the plan was that they would revisit this on the 15th, so we’ve been basically working and planning toward that timeline. It’s simply too short a period of time for us to get our operation in place so that we can accomplish the Phase 1 protocols.”

And those protocols are significant for a business such as Sundance, which is comprised of several small spaces that must be reconfigured to enable social distancing.

“We’ll be requiring staff and guests to wear masks, and obviously it will require working out some spatial logistics, so we can assist our customers in being comfortable with where they’re standing, whether they’re in line or elsewhere in the shop,” Kelly said.

Not only that, but a staff member must be stationed at the front door at all times to count customers and ensure they’re all wearing masks before entering. Sanitizer will be placed on counters as an extra layer of protection.

At Way to Go, the travel store in Reno’s Plumgate Shopping Center, owners Allison and Hannes Lamprecht also are taking Phase 1 slowly, despite the significant losses they’ve sustained in this era of lockdowns and halted travel.

“March is traditionally our biggest month of the year, so I’ll feel the impact all year,” Allison said, explaining that they have pivoted their business toward merchandise that will be more relevant to pandemic-era travel — including travel pillows, UV sanitizing wands, water bottles with UV sanitizing caps and more.

Way to Go Travel Store in the Plumgate Shopping Center at the intersection of Arlington Ave. and Plumb Lane in Reno – Photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

The Lamprechts also aren’t rushing to allow customers in their store. Way to Go will reopen on May 15 under strict social distancing guidelines, with mask requirements for both staff and customers. Clothes will be steamed regularly to prevent any transmission between customers. The store will offer free masks for customers who arrive without them; sanitizer will be made available throughout the store, which will be frequently disinfected.

At IMBĪB Custom Brews, with locations on E. Second St. in Reno and The Outlets at Legends in Sparks, the shutdown has been rife with confusion from day one, thanks to somewhat unclear or conflicting messages from state and local governments about whether a business that makes and/or sells alcohol can sell curbside, and how. While many retailers breathed a small sigh of relief with the May 1 opening of curbside, IMBĪB’s cofounder Matt Johnson had been enjoying the option for a couple weeks, thanks to an April 24 joint directive from Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks.

IMBĪB Brewery and Tap Room on East 2nd Street in Reno – Photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

Johnson said the original shutdown in mid-March forced him and co-founder Jason Green to lay off all employees. The supplemental directive enabled IMBĪB to reopen in modified fashion and slowly bring employees back to work with limited hours.

IMBĪB currently is allowed to sell its own beer prepackaged in bottles and crowlers, with drive-through pickup available at its Reno location and walk-up or call-to-order available in Sparks at its pickup window.

The May 7 announcement that allows some restaurants to reopen at limited capacity did not apply to IMBĪB, which is considered a bar, despite its having a snack bar permit, the logistics of which are somewhat murky for Johnson but does allow for some restricted hot food service.

“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent clear, but it looks to me that if you don’t have a restaurant attached to your brewery, you can remain open for curbside, but you won’t be open for normal operations,” Johnson said, pointing to Governor Sisolak’s plan to enable individual counties to determine what reopening measures are appropriate locally.

“We’re kind of waiting to see how the county interprets the governor’s plan, and whether a snack bar license will count as food service or not. My guess is they’ll say no, but that’s okay — we’re not necessarily in a rush to get people back at the bar drinking beer. We want to be safe about this.”

Jessica Santina is an award-winning writer and editor with nearly 20 years’ experience contributing to numerous local and regional publications. Read more about her here. Support Jessica’s work in The Ally.

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