Tony Micallef

Tony Micallef, owner of Tony’s Sports Novelties, told the Citizen that he is eager to regain the success that his business was experiencing prior to the pandemic.

California’s 15-month, near total economic shutdown ended on June 15 when the state lifted its color-coded tier system that limited business activities and crowd capacities to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

Starting on June 15, those who are vaccinated are no longer required to wear face coverings, except in certain situations, such as while using public transportation, visiting health care facilities, and spending time indoors at K-12 schools and child care facilities. Businesses no longer have crowd capacity limits.  

As of June 11, more than 644,000 Sacramento County residents have been fully vaccinated, according to the county’s public health data. The county’s population is more than 1.5 million. In Elk Grove’s largest zip codes, 95624 and 95758, 67% of residents are vaccinated in each area, according to the state’s public health department.

Sacramento County had an Orange Tier 3 status before the state ended the tier system – the county had a COVID case rate of 3.8 new cases per 100,000 residents as of June 15, the county’s public health staff reported.

During the week before the state ended the restrictions of its Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan, the Citizen spoke with Elk Grove business operators about their experiences during the long months of crowd capacity limits, store closures, and other restrictions.

Hayden Sisneros, owner of Core Nutrition, a nutrition club, shared his enthusiasm for the reopening of businesses in Elk Grove and throughout California.

“I love it,” he said. “I cannot wait for a reopening. People need to work. (The pandemic) was really hammering small businesses, especially. So, we need small businesses in our community. It’s like the backbone, and it adds a lot of character.”

Sisneros added that he was fortunate to have his business being allowed to operate during the pandemic’s early months since they were categorized as an essential business.

“We serve nutrition products, so it’s very important for people’s immunity to take care of themselves,” he said. “So, we’re very important to the community. How (the pandemic) affected me, it took away a lot of communication and community. Before the pandemic, in here, it (had) a club atmosphere. It was very poppin’. A lot of people hanging out. My culture got taken away from me, if that makes sense.”

Erica Lu, of Tea Garden Chinese Restaurant, told the Citizen that although it was not yet decided whether this business would have a full reopening on June 15, its operators were greatly anticipating a full reopening.

“We are beyond excited,” she said. “The servers – ourselves – are really excited to see our customers again and just to get back to normal. I’m so happy it’s come to this. It’s been a whole year long. We’re just all excited.”

Jenni Lutton, owner of Old Town Salon & Spa, shared her thoughts on the full reopening.

“I think it’s definitely great,” she said. “People are vaccinated, so everybody feels safer. I hope to take down all the shower curtains, take down all the plastic. I would love to get rid of the masks. It depends on what the state board will say.”

Lutton recalled how the pandemic led to two closures of her business.

“It’s been really tough,” she said. “We went out of business for a few months. We had to pay rent and pay all our bills and we weren’t bringing in any income. They shut us down twice. It was a huge struggle. I had to use my savings account to pay all the bills.”

Lutton also noted that she envisions a much livelier Old Town business district.

“I think it’s going to be great,” she said. “I think it’s great for the downtown area to have live music across the street, and (other) events finally, just opening things up (with) farmers’ markets, and just having more of a nightlife out here.”

Matt Stone, general manager of Elk Grove’s School of Rock (SOR), spoke about how the lifting of the state’s COVID-related restrictions would affect this business.

“We’re really of the discretion of our corporate leadership,” he said. “So, our leadership is working with their leadership. They have doctors on staff, all of that. They monitor all of the (SORs) around the country, the different states, even the different countries.”

Stone added that he did not believe that the Elk Grove SOR would fully reopen on June 15.

“We’ll probably hear from our directing officer of the region within a few days after that (day) to let us know if there are any changes,” he said. “We have to keep in mind that we’re a school, where the predominate population is younger students. And so, right now, vaccinations are really only allowed for those who are 12 or older. So, we need to be diligent.”

Tony Micallef, owner of Tony’s Sports Novelties, noted that he is eager to regain the success that his business was experiencing prior to the pandemic.

“(The full reopening) is very exciting, because right before the pandemic, I was doing very well,” he said. “Everything (was) 50%, 60%, 70% off. I was just trying to liquidate. I just got the word out there and people were flocking in here to buy tons of merchandise. Now, I hope they think that I’m still here.”

Bob’s Club operator Allan Veto Jr. told the Citizen that he is looking forward to seeing the smiling faces of his customers.

“That’s probably one of the biggest things I miss is (his customers’) smiling faces,” he said. “Right now, you don’t know if someone is smiling or what they’re doing in there (behind their masks). It will be great to kind of get back to some kind of normalcy. I hope that everybody comes out and feels really comfortable being out.

“I just want to talk about people being able to get out and have a good time again, being able to make choices again, being able to smile at each other again, being able to interact again. It’s just something we all need.”