After two long months, Bakersfield began showing signs of life.

Little by little, restaurants and retail stores reopened their doors and soon after, family entertainment centers, gyms and fitness studios, bars and wineries, and more followed suit. Then came the customers. Kern County entered Stage 3 of California’s four-stage economic reopening plan in early June, marking a huge step toward normalcy during the coronavirus pandemic. While the dining, shopping and entertainment experience may be different due to social-distancing guidelines, it is a welcome change for quarantine-weary residents and business owners.

“This has been a whirlwind to say the least,” said Heather Abbott, who owns Bella at The Marketplace. “It has definitely taken me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. I have had to talk myself through this situation every step of the way and make strategic short-term decisions to ensure long-term security for my business. It does warm my heart and make me feel so lucky that the community, and more specifically, my customers have been so supportive through all of this. That gives me a lot of drive.”

Bella at The Marketplace closed its doors on March 20 and reopened on May 22, offering in-store shopping, backdoor curbside pickup and private shopping appointments to appeal to different types of shoppers. Abbott said she plans to continue to offer backdoor curbside pickup and local delivery because it appeals to some of her customers and makes their shopping experience more convenient.

The Bakersfield Racquet Club not only closed its doors, in late March, it was forced to cancel its annual pro tournament, the Bakersfield Tennis Open, three days before it was scheduled to begin. Director of Tennis Mark Fredriksz said reopening back in May has been a blessing.

“We feel we can add a bit of normalcy to people’s lives in a safe way,” he said. “It helps people deal with anxiety and exercise is a great way to help people deal with stress. We play an important role in people’s well-being.”

Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar was able to stay open during the stay-at-home order, offering takeout, curbside pickup and delivery while the dining room was closed. Owners Nick and Pum Hansa said they felt it was vital to keep their staff working and receiving their income. Staffing started at 50% of their regular hours in the beginning, but were supplemented with weekly “food care-packs.” Through continued community support, they were able to restore hours to 85% for kitchen workers and 65% for front-of-house staff.

Chef’s Choice reopened its dining room on May 20, two months after closing it to the public, adhering to capacity limitations and adding a “fun touch” to the social-distancing guidelines by filling empty booths with large stuffed animals.

“Customers have enjoyed some light moments and rediscovering the restaurant dining experience,” Nick said.

Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, Shelby Gerber wasted no time after Kern County allowed bars and wineries to resume operations. The owner of Bottle Shock Wine + Brew in downtown Bakersfield opened her doors for the first time ever on June 8, the culmination of a two-year journey.

“We were well on our way to finishing so we had to push through,” Gerber said, adding that they would have opened in April had the stay-at-home order not taken place.

Gerber understands that customers may be hesitant to visit at this time, but assures them that they are doing everything they can to ensure their safety through frequent hand-washing and cleaning, social distancing and accommodating special requests.

“This is going to be our new normal,” Gerber said. “We have to adapt to it.”

While business owners say the past two months have been extremely challenging, they have seen continued, as well as newfound, passion for supporting local businesses within the community. They understand that many may still be hesitant to return to their regular routines, but they will be there for them when they are ready.

“I believe the current situation has affected customers in a couple of different ways,” Abbott said. “For some, I’ve noticed a focus on supporting local businesses. Though many of these customers were always conscientious about supporting local, this situation has made them even more considerate and passionate about doing so. I am personally eager to return to my prepandemic ways, but I respect that others may not necessarily feel the same way. Though I have made special accommodations at the shop to provide a safe shopping environment, I would rather have someone stay home if they are uncomfortable with the idea of being out and about.” 

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