New normal: Restaurant, gym owners reflect on COVID-19 realities |

New normal: Restaurant, gym owners reflect on COVID-19 realities

A sign placed along Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley states that the benches placed there are being used for a peaceful protest to protect the rights of bars and restaurants. The city of Grass Valley closed off the historic portion of Mill Street to aid downtown merchants, and a year after the initial COVID-19 shutdown, downtown businesses, bars, and restaurants have reopened with differing levels of compliance to state recommendations.
Photo: Elias Funez

One year ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 12 months that followed, the state developed a colored tier system that mandated the closure of businesses deemed “non-essential” depending on their county’s number of cases and rate of spread.

Now, both Nevada and Placer counties have remained in the purple, most restrictive tier, for over nine weeks after a slow recovery from COVID-19’s most significant peak in the United States in winter 2020-21.

The government has issued private companies relief via Paycheck Protection Program loans and given citizens who qualify stimulus checks.

The state imposed an eviction moratorium that Newsom has since extended until June 31. The moratorium does not forgive missed rent.


Practically speaking, the purple tier means restaurants, wineries and bars should only provide service outdoors.

It’s not until the red tier are eateries supposed to allow patrons to dine in, with capacity limited to 25%.

The downtown shopping areas of Grass Valley and Nevada City have seen an increased presence of downtown shoppers and pedestrians since California’s stay-at-home order was enacted one year ago.
Photo: Elias Funez

Dave Cowie of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Company said his eatery has followed county guidelines consistently since they first began to be issued in March 2020.

“We try to be as safe as we can with customers and with staff within the guidelines outlined by Public Health,” Cowie said. “We are trying to assuage concerns people have that don’t necessarily want to follow all the guidelines, and we’re trying to remain positive with everybody because everybody is stressed by this.

“We’ve had to downsize and do a lot more takeout,” Cowie added.

Chris Kysar, who had a previous grocery store burn down before opening California Organics in 2001, said the last year was another test of his resilience.

“We’ve had fights in here — pro-maskers and anti-maskers,” Kysar said.

Now, Kysar said he wears the mask more out of respect for his customers’ fear than he does to protect himself from the virus.

“All these news articles have put a deep sense of fear into people, that’s why people fight,” Kysar said.

Because of the air’s proverbial tension, Kysar said he and his wife go out of their way to accommodate all of their patrons.

“We wear masks, we have hand sanitizer and we socially distance,” Kysar said.

Kysar said besides introducing a robust online grocery shopping platform, California Organics allows customers to shop mask free by appointment.

“We have a really amazing online business for people who don’t want to deal with confrontation and who don’t want to wear the mask,” Kysar said. “We can also do delivery.”

Kysar said prior to the scheduled appointment, everything is wiped down and the store is emptied of both employees and other customers.

“We have to make sure no one is in the store, but my wife and I come down here and we open up the store for folks to do their shopping,” Kysar said.

Because California Organics is a cafe and a grocery store, when in-door dining came to a halt, Kysar said he was fortunate enough to have the capacity to re-prioritize his employee’s time.

“I’ve never laid off anybody throughout this whole thing, I’ve never cut back hours,” Kysar said, adding that he did not experience the degree of financial loss that other eateries did because of the grocery. “There was an uptick in home cooking and toilet paper purchases at the beginning of this.”

Kysar estimated that the cafe makes 20% of what it used to pre-COVID through takeout orders. Although the grocery has found ways to offset that loss, he has concerns about the cafe’s employees who usually rely on tips.

People enjoy a pleasant day dining along downtown Grass Valley’s Mill Street, which was closed off last year to help restaurants operate in compliance with state dining recommendations.
Photo: Elias Funez

Kysar said he is sensitive to the heightened financial and emotional pressure everyone is under. He added that some of his employees know several people who killed themselves since the pandemic began.

According to sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pettitt, there have been three suicides in Nevada County since 2021 began. Twenty-three people committed suicide in Nevada County in 2020, the same as 2019. The number of drug overdose deaths related to opioids was 30 for 2020. Eighteen of those deaths were related to fentanyl. In 2019, Nevada County had six overdose deaths and none were related to fentanyl.

Seventy-four people have died of COVID-19 in Nevada County.


In the purple tier, the state requires gym operations to take place outdoors. Indoor pools, hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms must be closed.

Many gym owners in Nevada County declined to comment on the total cost incurred by the closures and limited reopenings over the last 12 months.

Desmond Sandy, who helps run Gold Crush Climbing Gym in Grass Valley, said calling his rock gym non-essential may be a misnomer “in terms of physical and mental wellbeing” because exercise is a preventative health measure.

“You lock people up in their homes and then take a healthy routine and healthy engagement away,” Sandy said. “It’s so antithetical to what we should be focusing on.“

Sandy said if officials have yet to report on the impact COVID-19 has had on adults beyond impacted Intensive Care Units, he feels particularly concerned for how the pandemic and its related restrictions will impact young people and children.

“I think they’re the most vulnerable in a lot of ways,” Sandy said. “Maybe not now, per se, but in the long term it could have much more of an avalanche affect with young people.”

Sandy and his wife have a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and one on the way.

“To me, getting things back open up for kids is probably number one,” Sandy said. “I had to shut down the climbing team and kids classes and that’s just been killing me.”

Sandy said while he and his family eagerly anticipate their newest addition, they are still reeling from the deaths of two young people who died from something other than coronavirus in the last year.

“How can we be stripping away any kind of infrastructure that these kids might have,” Sandy said. “School might be the one thing kids can (use to) escape their home life.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at

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