The relief, while not total, was palpable.
“We are so excited,” said businessman Mark Suleiman, who owns Diva Diamonds and Jewels in Santa Fe and manages several other shops in the downtown area.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to allow retailers to reopen at reduced customer capacity was met with open arms by many New Mexico store owners late Wednesday afternoon. Suleiman was so hopeful relief was on the way that his workers had been preparing for Saturday’s reopening since Monday.
“We were basically cleaning the jewelry,” Suleiman said. “We kept all our employees on salary [since closing in March].”
As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, Lujan Grisham has been under increasing pressure to reopen New Mexico businesses, many shuttered since March as the state grapples with a near-dormant economy amid the backdrop of a massive public health emergency. But during a Facebook news conference Wednesday, the governor said retailers could open at 25 percent of their fire code capacity on Saturday, with so-called big-box stores remaining at 20 percent.
However, the joy was not universal because not everything will open: Dine-in restaurants, hair salons, gyms, movie theaters and malls — what the governor termed as “high-intensity contact” businesses — will remain closed until at least early June.
“The risks are too high,” Lujan Grisham said of dine-in service, though she later added, “We believe we can have limited occupancy at restaurants in early June.”
Reopening for dine-in will be based on the rate of transmission of the novel coronavirus, plus testing and a host of other metrics, Lujan Grisham said.
Several Santa Fe restaurants were banking on a May 15 restart, and the news they would have to wait until June disappointed many.
“She said May 15 before and some restaurants planned on that,” said George Gundrey, who owns the popular Tomasita’s restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque as well as Atrisco Cafe & Bar. “I’m very disappointed. What else is there to say?”
Gundrey said the two Tomasita’s are doing 20 percent of their normal business with curbside and takeout service, with only 20 percent of their employees working.
“Disappointing is the lack of clarity, early June,” Gundrey said. “She’s moving the goalposts. It’s going to be devastating for the Santa Fe economy and workforce.”
Iconik Coffee Roasters owner Sean Ham agreed many restaurants were gearing toward a Friday reopening at 20 percent capacity, with many planning on rehiring staff and ordering food and supplies.
“Now we all have to retool and reformat,” Ham said. “It makes it impossible for people to plan because we planned to reopen May 15. The cascading effects of this are far-reaching.”
But Ann Ferragamo, who is working solo at her Thai Café & Noodle Treats, called Lujan Grisham’s decision “reasonable and practical.”
Though Ferragamo said she initially lost 70 percent of her revenue early in the crisis, she’s recovered to the point where she’s now bringing in 75 percent of her normal business.
“I’m OK,” Ferragamo said. “I’m just lucky to have my customers. I’m OK with takeout.”
Early on, curbside and delivery service at Cowgirl Santa Fe was 90 percent down from the revenue the restaurant had projected had it been fully operational.
“Now we are at 80 percent off our projection,” owner Patrick Lambert said. “I think it’s a good idea to keep it safe and be conservative with it. It’s a risky position to put everybody in [to reopen now].”
Lambert said Cowgirl, which has 18 of its usual 40 employees working, likely will have to rethink its entire business model — at least for the short term — even after restaurants get back in the game. He said he believes live music and kids moving around freely likely won’t be part of any initial opening.
“Phase one: No music, no standing, no pool hall, no kids court,” Lambert said. “That’s a different paradigm for us. We are about social contact, not social distance.”
Lino Pertusini has no takeout at his Osteria d’Assisi in downtown Santa Fe, but he is serving some Osteria dishes at his Pizzeria Da Lino. Combining dishes at both establishments at the pizzeria has allowed him to achieve 100 percent normal revenue at Pizzeria Da Lino, he said.
Still, every day is a tough one.
“Early June, that’s a long way away,” Pertusini said.