After months of COVID-19 shutdowns, Ramona business owners and community members are reacting to indoor restrictions and closures of gyms, bars, salons and churches with a mix of grief and hope.
Casey Lynch, Ramona Community Planning Group chairman, said the Rancho Land Co. surveying business he owns in Ramona has slowed as construction projects declined during the coronavirus pandemic. He said he balances the demand to serve his clients with keeping his employees safe.
“The hardest thing is watching my fellow business owners in town struggle,” said Lynch, who is encouraging others to patronize businesses and outdoor and takeout restaurants. “It’s important to support local businesses and to try to find a way to get them to open and get them back to normal.”
As the planning group chair, Lynch said he also has concerns about public access to the group’s monthly teleconference meetings. He encourages community members to keep tabs on politicians, stay involved and be aware of current issues.
“We need to keep rallying together and keep the conversation going,” Lynch said.
Natallie Phillips, owner of Smoking Cannon Brewery and the Artistry in Hair salon in Ramona, said on one hand businesses should play by the rules and implement safe sanitation and social distancing protocols. But for a town like Ramona where the numbers of COVID cases aren’t very high, she said small businesses should be allowed to stay open.
“In my eyes it’s not that much of a risk in Ramona,” Phillips said. “I don’t think Ramona has so many cases that businesses have to shut down.”
As a hairstylist, Phillips is being pressured with requests from customers to have their hair cut, colored or styled at home. But Phillips said if she agreed, she’d be violating the rules of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and could risk losing her license or even her entire business.
Although Phillips temporarily provided salon services outside her business relocated to 780 Main St., Suite A, the summer heat is temporarily prohibiting her from comfortably servicing clients outdoors.
Anthony Abbott, who co-owns ADMA Elite Training with his wife Lindsay, said he fully supports small businesses opening up as long as they open properly and safely. His own training center can remain open for virtual personal training and bootcamps at 701 Main St. because it helps people maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Abbott said ADMA Elite is adapting to COVID guidelines by offering virtual bootcamps and corporate wellness programs. The remote format helps customers young and old who have underlying medical conditions or otherwise at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.
The certified personal trainer is expressing his opinions about safe openings on social media because he said he doesn’t want his message to get lost in translation.
“We’ve definitely done things to adapt, overcome and to keep making money,” said Abbott, who is working with clients by Zoom to keep them healthy and help them fight off diseases. “We should be able to open, but we need to do it in safety, with precautions. We’re definitely an essential business because we help make people physically and mentally healthy and happy.”
Ramona Fitness Center owner Peter San Nicolas rallied business owners and others interested in expressing their views about local and state shutdown orders outside his gym on Tuesday, Aug. 11. San Nicolas arranged the gathering a week after San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan had charged him with five misdemeanors for refusing to shut down his gym.
“This is not about my business, this is about all small businesses,” San Nicolas told the crowd of nearly 50 attendees. “I believe we can open small businesses safely.”
San Nicolas said he’s been struggling most of the year with shutdowns and reopenings and invited the crowd to share their stories and discuss ideas for opening venues again.
The Last Real Gym owner Frank Kole said he’s invested money in rearranging his North Park gym, its equipment and staff to meet COVID guidelines but the shutdown has made it difficult to help people improve their lives.
“There’s a lot of solutions to fixing this but what is the correct one?” he asked the attendees. “We have to take control and stand up for what’s right. Now it’s about pulling together as one for a voice of change.”
Lisa Simmons, a Ramona salon owner, said she’s able to survive the shutdown by working as a high school counselor and her partner works at a feed store, but she attended the forum to say women are being disproportionately affected as they dominate the hair and cosmetology industry.
Simmons believes salons were unfairly singled out for shutdowns because of two COVID outbreaks at salons out of roughly 53,000 salons in California.
“The governor is supposed to be about women’s rights, and if it’s true, then he’s not standing up for what he believes in,” said Simmons, adding she thought the event outside Ramona Fitness Center was productive. “I think it got the word out to people who needed to hear these words. We got to vent our anger and frustration.”
Jack Neely, a former Ramona resident in the process of moving out of state with his wife, railed against statistics pointing to high numbers of businesses expected to be permanently shuttered, and policies that allow religious institutions to provide shelter for homeless people, food distributions and job counseling but not indoor worship services.
“The state is morally and financially bankrupt,” said Neely, encouraging people with COVID concerns to stay home, keep their distance from others, wear masks and use hand sanitizers. “I want to defend my rights. I don’t want to sit back, be quiet and allow this to happen.”
Ramona Family Naturals Market owners Robert and Victoria Bradley also attended the event to support San Nicolas and encourage attendees to fight for their rights.
Robert said people should be aware of what is happening, question authority and challenge the government.
“I don’t know if this meeting will have an effect but it’s a start,” said Robert, who favors holding other meetings of this type. “It’s good for people to feel they can speak and talk to the community.”