Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Chamber Executive Director Weighs in on Local Business During Coronavirus

Martha Mova, manager of the Pretty Please boutique on Orange Avenue as well as its sister store Lily’s, helps customer Renee Fontaine, a casting director visiting from Los Angeles.

Nearly four months into Coronado businesses battling the coronavirus pandemic fallout, checking in with the Chamber of Commerce provided some insight into what it’s like for restaurants and retailers during this time.

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Sue Gillingham, executive director for the Coronado Chamber of Commerce, has had recent discussions with local business owners to get a feel for their experiences and outlook.

“I think in general people are trying to be optimistic,” she said, adding that everyone is experiencing about half their normal success.

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Gillingham thinks there hasn’t yet really been an impact from the Hotel del Coronado’s recent reopening. She said that even though they’re open — without the pool and with limited restaurants — it’s not like they have all 800 rooms filled. July is usually as close to 100% occupancy as they would get but their occupancy now is still pretty low; no hotel remains close to 100% all the time.

“I think they’re looking more toward August as opening up more,” Gillingham said, adjusting logistics to account for more guests safely. “For them, it’s supply and demand. If demand is growing, they’ll make more supply available.”

The Hilton doesn’t own the Del, Gillingham reminded, but it does operate it — so the organization has the advantage of those best practices being used far and wide.

Gillingham also discussed how the restaurants are finding a new normal, with many doing some remodeling or redoing their menu throughout this slower period.

“They obviously were big into take-out for a couple months,” Gillingham said. “That was kind of a mixed blessing because some of them were like, ‘Hey, this works great.’ And then others found, ‘This is only 20% of my revenue; this isn’t sustainable.’ So I think everyone is sort of finding their sweet spot, being smart enough to evaluate the market as it’s changing every day.”

She said restaurant patron compliance to wearing a mask is an issue.

“The restaurants say people get a little ornery. They don’t want to wear masks. In general, I think locals are being very respectful of that. But we have to remember locals don’t pay the bills. Even though they did a really good job of eating out for a couple months. And the restaurants really appreciated that.”

Gillingham said people don’t always realize that the second week of June through the second week of August is when Coronado businesses make most of their entire year’s worth of profit.

“Every day there’s lousy weather, or the Del isn’t open, or a beach gets closed,” she said, “it’s just touch and go.”

Retailers are trying to be optimistic as well, Gillingham said. She mentioned the hope that the weather holds, the Del continues to open more rooms, and people visit from other parts of the country for holiday weekends (when it’s safe to do so).

The Pretty Please boutique on Orange Avenue advertised in advance of the holiday weekend.

“They’re just trying to do their best to be ready for whatever comes along,” she said of the shops. “They’re cautiously optimistic.”

Gillingham described how there have been many personnel lay-offs but also now bringing employees back who are really desired; or sometimes training someone new can be easier depending on the different roles required.

She sees businesses pretty much sticking to themselves as they figure out operations, but they communicate between their block mates or businesses to the direct left and right.

The county health department came through the area last week, Gillingham shared. She explained that the city tries to help businesses comply with the county regulations, though the county polices things and manages factors such as restaurant letter grade ratings. She said keeping a business or beach open is decided by the governor but the county or city can do a closure if they decide the trade-off isn’t healthy locally.

“They’re always asking for a little bit more,” she said of the inspections. “Put up another plexiglass shield here, move some tables over there. So the restaurants are always having to be on the lookout as to what’s changing.”

Hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is a new staple in most stores. The Pretty Please shop offers a thoroughly cleaned store, hand sanitizing station and a limit of how many patrons inside, as well as a mask rule. The manager said she closes the door partially when at capacity so she can inform guests politely when they enter.

“One person described it as a roller coaster because you can’t tell from day to day what to expect,” Gillingham said. “But in general people are doing everything they can to survive. And you know, I imagine there were a lot of sighs of relief that the restaurants didn’t close (again recently) … This is just the way it is. You need to go with the flow, and if (patrons) don’t want to comply you need to go home.” Editor’s Note: the interview and this article were completed prior to the midnight closure of indoor dining on July 6.

Gillingham said that prior to the Fourth of July, she received several phone calls from people in Las Vegas and Phoenix, travelers asking what’s going on and seeming willing to visit and wear masks.

“They want to get out of the heat.”

Gillingham advises to check the San Diego County website as it’s the “ground zero” for information. She added the city does a weekly report that summarizes updates and changes and also shares anything that’s different than the county. Learn more on the city website here.


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Aly Lawson
Aly Lawson
Aly has a BA in mass communication, emphasizing journalism and public relations, and a MBA in marketing. She has worked as a reporter and marketer in various industries and overseas. She also won a best community business story award from the Nevada Press Association in 2017. Originally from Washington, this is her second time living in Coronado, where her husband is stationed as a Navy helicopter pilot. They have two small children and the whole family adores Coronado. Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to:


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