Second pandemic winter brings downtown businesses new challenges amid transition

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Hotel Winters (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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Despite pandemic recovery, Winters’ downtown businesses are still in a period of transition. 

“We haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels yet,” said Chris Turkovich, president of the Downtown Winters Business Association and owner of Turkovich Family Wines. 

Despite easing restrictions, Winters businesses are still contending with the uncertainty of the pandemic. Turkovich said, “any time the news starts covering the new stuff — the new mandate, new changes in Delta variant, now (Omnicron)  — it’s pretty immediate, the slow down.” 

In addition to COVID, rainstorms over the past few weeks have slowed down business traffic. Turkovich is not complaining though.

“We need the rain, especially my business, the farming side of it,” said Turkovich. 

Chuck Pearce, owner of Pizza Factory, gave a similar assessment of his business to Turkovich: 2021 is better than 2020, but he still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels. However, his primary difficulty isn’t lower sales, but finding enough staff. 

He’s brought on a lot of high school students and first-time workers since the shortage started around election time, but Pearce said, “I’m still only at about 40 percent staff.”

“I mean I’m here (at the Pizza Factory) seven days a week,” said Pearce. “And because we’re short staffed, customers have to wait. They get pretty rude.”

Pearce is offering above minimum wage for workers with experience and raises after a 90-day probationary period for workers with no experience. 

Hotel Winters
On the positive side, the Winters Hotel is now fully operational. Turkovich called the hotel, “the good news and the shining star for Downtown right now.” 

Guysell Geter, Winters Hotel General Manager, said that reservations at the hotel can increase demand, especially for restaurants.

“They feel when we have high occupancy and demand,” said Geter.

Despite operating at decreased capacity for in 2020, now at full capacity, the hotel has sold out even on week days. 

Holiday events impact

Winters’ holiday festivities also brought  an influx of potential customers to downtown. According to Turkovich, the Tractor Parade, Tree Lighting, and Holiday Bazaar, “seemed to have a positive effect across the board.”

Pearce also said the Tractor Parade and Tree Lighting, “brought in a lot of business, to where we ran out of prepped food.” He said that customers were understanding of the two hour wait time. 

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