Winters Businesses Buckle Down for Long Winter

Photo by Edward Booth/Winters Express

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Winters businesses will remain heavily restricted as California’s stay-at-home order carries on for at least another few weeks.

The order first took effect across Yolo County on the night of Dec. 10, roughly a day after being triggered when intensive care unit capacity in the Greater Sacramento region fell below 15 percent. The new restrictions resemble the state’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic in March, and they will remain in place for a minimum of three weeks, according to the order. 

Once ICU capacity becomes more available, the restrictions will be replaced by the familiar color-coded tiers of the state’s reopening system. The system allows counties to reopen portions of the economy as COVID-19 case rates decrease; It was in effect in Yolo County for the past three months, beginning at the end of August after a statewide summer wave of COVID-19 cases leveled out. But cases began surging in mid-November and have yet to stabilize. Four out of five regions of California, containing more than 98 percent of state residents, fell under the stay-at-home order this month.

The most economically damaging change the order brought to most downtown Winters businesses is a ban on outdoor dining, which was allowed under a previous county health order and every tier of the state’s reopening system. Restaurants and coffee shops, among other businesses, must now rely solely on take-out and delivery. 

Chris Turkovich, president of the Winters Downtown Business Association, said local businesses rely on the downtown being a destination spot for Winters residents as well as people from surrounding areas such as Davis, Woodland and Vacaville. 

“A lot of what we’re selling in Winters is the charm and the ambiance of our downtown,” Turkovich said

The city spent most of a $200,000 CARES Act grant to create an outside dining area on Main Street that, when finished, can be easily opened and closed to allow for two-way vehicle traffic. Over the past few weeks, the area has been outfitted with pergolas, warm lighting and outdoor heating. Turkovich said the project will be entirely finished this week, though outdoor dining won’t be allowed until the stay-at-home order is lifted. 

The grant was earmarked specifically for the purpose of assisting local businesses. Turkovich, who worked with the city to help allocate the grant, said it was difficult to orchestrate spending the CARES Act funds because they needed to be spent — and whatever they were spent on needed to be put into effective use — by Dec. 30 to be in compliance with the CARES Act. Turkovich said some ideas that were discussed, like renting tents for Main Street, wouldn’t work because the city couldn’t prepay the money or enter into contracts that went beyond Dec. 30. 

“We were looking at about 60 days to figure it all out and then get it all executed,” Turkovich said. “I know on my end this limited time to get it spent was quite challenging.”

The city, according to Turkovich, made the decision to spend the funds on the outdoor dining setup because, even as the weather worsened and COVID-19 case numbers grew, outdoor dining wouldn’t be restricted by the state’s tiered system. 

“(Removing outdoor dining) was a scenario that we didn’t think was an option, or we didn’t know was going to be an option, at the time in October and November,” Turkovich said. 

The Dec. 6 Yolo County health order put in place most of the current stay-at-home order restrictions, but allowed outdoor dining among members of the same household. 

Jenny Tan, the county’s public information officer, said in an email she assumed the reason the state decided to ban outdoor dining is because it represented a situation where people from multiple households can gather or interact with each other. 

“When Yolo County initially started our new restrictions on December 6 (before the state Stay Home order) we limited outdoor dining to just those in your household,” Tan wrote. “This gave restaurants and outdoor dining a way to stay open, just limiting who you could sit at the same table with. Unfortunately, the State’s Stay Home order went into effect on Dec. 10.”

Not all of the CARES Act grant funds were allocated to outdoor dining. Forty thousand was initially allocated to a rent and mortgage assistance grant program, and city manager Kathleen Trepa said at the Dec. 15 Winters City Council meeting that the city was able to increase the total amount of funding for the program to $60,000. The increase in funding is because the city’s department of public works built the pergolas in the Main Street Dining Area instead of a contractor, she said. 

Trepa said the city received 23 applications for the program, and was able to give grants to 17 businesses, all of them small businesses that hadn’t previously received direct support from Yolo County’s grant program. The city tried to provide each business with at least three months of rent and capped each grant at $4,000, Trepa said. 

Additional Federal help is also on the way for the first time since April. Congressional leaders reached an agreement Sunday on a $900 billion stimulus package. The measure would provide more than $284 billion for businesses, according to the New York Times, while sending out $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. 

All the while, local businesses continue to adapt. Turkovich said online ordering has drastically improved for many businesses, including his own: Turkovich Family Wines. He said when the winery tasting room shut down, a bunch of staff members were moved over to help with local deliveries.

“That’s probably something we’re going to keep doing even after COVID,” Turkovich said. “As long as orders like that keep coming in, doing our own local delivery has been pretty successful and pretty good for our business.”

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