By Mike Allen
Photo: Al's Sports Shop, Santee
May 6, 2020 (Santee) -- It’ll be a lot different, but Rob Treadwell, the owner of Al’s Sports Shop in Santee, says things will work out.
“We’ve been here 40 years and I believe we’ll make it,” said Treadwell, interviewed a few days before his store partially reopens.
County rules adopted earlier this week following a statewide easing of restriction require that qualifying businesses follow similar rules that restaurants have been operating under since March 19, when California enacted a shelter-in-place quarantine in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Treadwell said his store won’t allow customers inside except for payments, and picking up the items customers ordered in advance.
A fixture in the community, Al’s closed right after the shelter-in-place directives took effect, which involved the layoff of 24 full and part-time employees. Yet the business didn’t entirely shut down, Treadwell said. Because the business had tailoring and sewing equipment, it decided to manufacture hundreds of face masks that were sold at cost to Payton’s Hardware in Lakeside, as well as on Al’s online site, www.alssportshop.com
“We’ve done some work for the Sheriff’s Department, making some plaques, and made some graduation yard signs that we delivered to some kids’ homes, but other than that, nothing. I’d say we’re 95 percent down from our normal business,” Treadwell said.
Asked what that translated to in dollars over the six weeks, he said “hundreds of thousands.” Al’s Sports Shop is one of the largest retailers of high school letter jackets on the West Coast, and lost maybe a third of what normally is ordered due to all the schools closing, Treadwell said.
“Our business more or less ground to a standstill.”
He isn’t alone, and while most restaurants concentrated on filling take out orders, many were doing less than half or even 25 percent of the sales that would have been generated if they were open for dine-in service as usual.
Other businesses that are able to open around the state starting May 8 are bookstores, music and toys stores, and florists. Major department stores and office buildings remain closed. Restaurants still cannot accept dine-in customers.
But that may change if California and the county continue to flatten the curve relating to newly reported cases of COVID-19 infections, said Santee Mayor John Minto. He and Councilwoman Laura Koval head up a committee of local business owners and other interested parties to explore ways that the enterprises can reopen safely when the state gives the green light.
The mayor’s committee of about 20 people includes business owners, church leaders, and local volunteers; it held one meeting last month using teleconferencing technology. Because the committee wasn’t appointed by the City Council, Minto said it didn’t have to follow state rules covering regular public meetings, including allowing anyone to attend.
Minto said the idea behind the committee is to figure out possible ways to implement the lifting of restrictions on businesses once the state makes that call.
“When (the restrictions” are lifted), we don’t want to start asking ourselves, ‘What do we do now?’” Minto said.
Minto indicated he never thought about inviting Councilman Stephen Houlahan, a professional nurse, to the committee because he has access to the county health department to advise him on health related issues.
Houlahan is also running for Minto’s job as mayor in the upcoming November election.
“No, they didn’t ask me,” Houlahan said. “I’m not sure why they wouldn’t want to hear from someone with 22 years experience as a nurse when you’re talking about dealing with a pandemic. But they probably wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.”
He said the fear in opening up businesses too early is that many more people may be infected, and those cases will lead to more deaths. If the region experiences a second wave of COVID-19 infections later in the year, it will likely result in yet more restrictions and could end up costing far more money, said Houlahan.