Los Angeles stores take tentative steps in reopening for business
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by Javier Tovar and Laurent Banguet
For Zohrab Mahdessian, owner of Jasmine’s Garden flower shop in Los Angeles, the reopening of some stores in California on Friday couldn’t have come at a better time — Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US.
“I’m happy to be back,” he told AFP as he picked his order of roses, lilies, orchids and other blooms at the Flower District in downtown LA early Friday.
“I’m feeling a bit rusty from having been shut down for seven weeks now… and hopefully I will be able to recover some of my losses this weekend,” he added as he weaved his way through the crowded flower market.
Mahdessian’s shop in LA’s Los Feliz neighborhood is on a list of retailers allowed to get back to business in California as the state begins lifting a stay-at-home order imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the governor’s plan, bookstores, music stores, florists, toy stores, clothing stores and a few others can reopen, but only for curbside pickup and barring any tougher restrictions at the local level.
But despite the green light given by authorities, most retailers remained shuttered on Friday, while some, like Mahdessian, hoped for the best.
The 58-year-old said loyal customers — some of whom have become friends in the 20 years he has been open — have put in orders, but he was not sure that will be enough to help him survive the economic losses incurred from the virus-related shutdown.
He usually gets upwards of 150 orders for Mother’s Day, one of his biggest days of the year, but so far he has only gotten about 60.
“We’ll see after this weekend,” he sighed, back in his small shop as he prepared bouquets. “If the business continues, I will stay open but if I’m down to half or a quarter of my normal business, then I have to consider other options.”
Elsewhere throughout the county, including in Santa Monica and Venice, few people were seen out shopping, attesting to the difficulty in restarting an economy that has suffered billions of dollars in losses for a state that boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world.
Downtown Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, an open-air pedestrian shopping center usually teeming with shoppers and tourists, looked like a ghost town with few people walking about.
‘Easier and safer’ –
“I’m not surprised it’s not opening that fast,” said Maggy, a local resident who did not want to share her last name.
“It takes time for small shops to get prepared,” she added, as she picked up a coffee near the Promenade. “And honestly, unless you really want something very specific or in a very specific shop, it’s easier and safer to order online and have it delivered to your door.
“Why bother go out and pick it up on the curbside?”
In nearby Venice, few shops were scheduled to reopen with many offering online shopping since the lockdown order was imposed in March.
The majority of souvenir shops along Hollywood Boulevard also remained shuttered with only a handful of tourists outside the Hard Rock Cafe — which set up a table on the sidewalk — buying trinkets.
Car dealers were also among those allowed back to business Friday but with strict social distancing measures in showrooms.
Apart from retail shops, Los Angeles County this weekend was set to reopen its expansive hiking trails and golf courses, with restrictions on groups and activities.
Beaches in the Los Angeles area, however, will remain closed.
Back at Mahdessian’s flower shop, customer Elisa Cohen said she was happy to purchase a bouquet of roses to brighten her day but wasn’t ready to go on a shopping spree.
“Public health comes first,” said Cohen, a film editor, summing up the feeling of many fellow Californians.
“I wouldn’t go to a business, it scares me. I would come here (to the flower shop) because I know him.” (AFP)