Tiburon Peninsula businesses try to adapt during first week of new restrictions
The greater Tiburon Peninsula’s business centers became ghost towns last week as shop owners mostly heeded orders by regional and state officials to shut down nonessential businesses to the public — though one local business owner became a local online hero as she stepped up to offer two products in high demand: toilet paper and sanitizers.
Grocery stores like Safeway in Strawberry, Woodlands Market at The Boardwalk Shopping Center and Nugget Markets at The Cove Shopping Center were allowed to remain open, alongside banks, gas stations, laundry services and health-care facilities, while restaurants from Sweet Things and Foodniks at The Cove to Servino Ristorante and Sam’s Anchor Cafe downtown are allowed to offer food only for takeout and delivery — if they choose to remain open at all.
The original six-county shutdown in the Bay Area took effect at 12:01 a.m. March 17 and was to last through April 7. But days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an open-ended shelter-in-place directive across the entire state, effective 12:01 a.m. March 20. Both orders carried misdemeanor penalties for defiance of the directives.
The overnight impact on local businesses was obvious.
Boutiques, real-estate offices, law firms, physical-therapy centers, gyms, investment companies, architects’ offices, shoe stores, furniture and fabric stores, hair and nail salons, clothing stores and optometrists — anything outside the “essential need” category — were shuttered for business.
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But Tiburon resident and business owner Carolyn Dilena redirected her business to help her neighbors.
Dilena and husband Randy own Blue Ribbon Supply, a South San Francisco-based wholesale distributor that typically does business with restaurants, hotels and other bulk-buying facilities. Randy Dilena’s family started the business in 1958, selling janitorial supplies out of their garage.
Last week, Carolyn Dilena posted on Nextdoor.com that she had more than 1,000 cases of various types of toilet paper in stock and that she’d waive the site’s automatic $20 delivery fee for orders under $250 with the code “Tiburon” in the delivery notes.
“Our trucks deliver to Marin every Monday, but I’ve been bringing stuff home to neighbors every night so am happy to help out if you need stuff sooner,” she wrote.
The toilet-paper inventory quickly sold out — “for the really desperate, there are a few cases of a super big roll toilet tissue usually used in over-size dispensers” — but she said she’s expecting supplies to be replenished March 27.
She said sanitizers also come into stock but sell out quickly.
“Carolyn, you are an absolute angel for personally delivering the case of Angel Soft toilet paper directly to our house and without a delivery charge!” wrote one Del Mar neighborhood resident. “It’s neighbors like you that make this extremely difficult and scary time so much easier.”
In downtown Tiburon, Caffe Acri on Main Street has reduced its hours to 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., offering takeout service only, while sister business Servino Ristorante is offering takeout and delivery orders.
Restaurant manager Natale Servino said he is particularly interested in being of service to the community’s elderly members, who are being urged not to leave home at all.
“As a fellow business operator and member of the community, I can understand how this is deeply challenging to us all on so many levels,” said Servino, who is also president of the Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce board of directors. “For owners and employees, this is our livelihood, and not to be able to operate has tremendous trickle-down effects in our local community and in the larger community. That said, safety is the most important thing to consider and practice at this time. I encourage all businesses and members of the community to take the shelter-in-place seriously.”
A few doors down, Crystal Azzarello, who owns Luna Blu restaurant with her husband, said they too were encouraging local residents to support them by ordering takeout. Orders can be placed by phone for pickup and for free delivery.
“Our servers are going to become delivery drivers to keep them busy and help us get the food out faster,” Azzarello said. “We have added weekday lunches back to our schedule so we can provide lunch or dinner any day except Tuesday.”
Ken and Launa Simpson of Belvedere said they wanted to do something to support the local restaurants. They had big red signs made up reading, “Keep Calm and Carry Out” and offered them to the Main Street restaurants that remain open, to make it easy for people who are driving downtown to see what was available.
“We are grateful to our community for supporting us and for making us smile through a challenging time that impacts everyone,” Azzarello said, reacting to the Simpsons’ sign gift.
Sam’s Anchor Cafe closed completely and will remain closed at least through April 7, the earliest the shelter-in-place order could be lifted. Co-owner Conor Flaherty suggested supporters could help the restaurant by purchasing gift cards at the Sam’s website, to be redeemed after it’s allowed to reopen. It’s offering a $20 bonus on $100 gift cards.
“The way we look at it, it’s about safety first, for the people who come in, for society in general,” Flaherty said. “The impact is going to be very substantial. We’re fine … and we have a great group of partners.”
He said that, for now, employees are getting paid, but it will depend on how long the closure lasts.
Salt & Pepper on Main Street plans to be closed until March 30 for major cleaning and minor repairs.
Yema, the new athletic fashion boutique that opened on Fountain Plaza earlier this month, was forced to close down, as was Koze, a clothing store down the street.
“I think the emotional impact on us has been very tough,” said owner Darla Fisher. “I have a small team that has been with me for a long time. It’s difficult in a retail environment to take your work home with you, but we’re using this time to create an online sales environment, which we haven’t wanted to do until now, but … we’re looking for opportunities to strengthen our business.”
Fisher said she and her staff are working from their homes to build the catalogue, which she says should be up this week, offering six or seven categories of accessories.
Around the corner on upper Main Street, known as Ark Row, Tiburon Wine owner Jerry Horn said March 17 he planned to stay open and quipped that the authorities “would have to pry the bottle of champagne out of his cold, dead hand.”
The shop was specifically pointed to in several posts on Nextdoor.com as appearing to be breaking the order.
When interviewed again March 20, he clarified: “We’re selling bottles of wine and champagne. No tasting room activity. We’re not serving. I’m a one-man show. Most of the neighbors have been super supportive. We’re here until someone from the town says we can’t be.”
But the following day, Tiburon police received a report that he and others inside and outside the shop were breaking the order. Horn reportedly told police he had been complying.
Lola’s Taqueria is open for takeout orders, which they take on the phone and deliver curbside to drive-up customers. A representative for the owner said it was too early to tell how the shutdowns might affect the business. They had noticed a fall-off of walk-in customers, but Lola’s does a lot of takeout business and, so far, were doing fine.
Tiburon Thrift Shop, a nonprofit cooperative staffed by volunteers whose profits benefit local church outreach programs and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society, closed for the protection of their volunteers, most of whom are over 60.
Thrift store President Carolyn Grey said it usually makes enough to give each of its member organizations about $17,000 a year. That is money that the nonprofit Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society, for example, uses to pay the rent for its archives and business offices at The Boardwalk.
Grey said that the shutdown put its paid manager out of work suddenly as well, but she said the store has a cushion and plans to use it to keep paying her. The shutdown also means that local residents can’t bring them donations of clothing, accessories, housewares and other goods that they sell.
Downtown Tiburon Boulevard
Farther north, The Lodge at Tiburon remains open but its in-house restaurant, Tiburon Tavern, is closed. An employee who answered the telephone at the hotel’s front desk said they were taking things day-by-day. She took a message for the manager, who did not comment before The Ark’s press deadline.
Maria French Cleaners and Tiburon Laundromat remained open as essential services.
Cindy’s Hair Salon is closed to customers, but owner Cindy Siciliano was inside last week, giving it a thorough cleaning and sanitizing before leaving for home.
Tiburon Nails is also closed. Customer Jane Pardini of Tiburon said she was concerned about employees.
“They’re going to be out of work for weeks. I feel for them,” she said. “They’re immigrants and I know they have kids. I wanted to try to find them to send some financial assistance through Venmo, but I don’t know even their last names.”
CVS/pharmacy remained open, as it provides essential services.
At The Boardwalk, Woodlands Market was a hub of activity inside — and out — on March 17.
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At the tables outside, laborers and others didn’t seem to have gotten the message about the prohibitions on gatherings, as nearly a dozen of them gathered for lunch at one picnic table or in tight clusters near pickups in the parking lot. Several groups were spotted at tables around the building later that day and the following one.
Groups of moms and their kids yakked outside the Woodlands’ entrance at lunch hour, standing close together and face-to-face. Seniors were spotted hugging, telling each other the coronavirus media reports are overblown despite the government-mandated shutdown.
Gaggles of kids, who aren’t in school during its mandatory closure, were seen riding their bikes and congregating together.
Tiburon Spa is closed altogether, while The Ark next door is closed to the public. The newspaper’s editorial, advertising and business-services staff are working remotely and available by email and phone, while individual members of the business and production staff are only allowed inside one at a time.
The paper last week created a dedicated group on community website Nextdoor.com, is posting near-daily coronavirus updates to its own website and is offering the main coronavirus news stories published in the print edition for free online as a community service. In the weeks to come, The Ark is planning to launch an email newsletter and may potentially deploy a PDF version of its print edition for online delivery if there are disruptions in mail service or the supply of newsprint, which mostly comes from Canada.
Gift shop Diana’s of Tiburon is closed, while Tiburon Mail Service, which is considered an essential service, is open.
“I’m not as busy, of course, but my mailbox customers are ordering more online, so I’m getting more deliveries from UPS and Fedex and Amazon,” said owner Tim Solomon. “People here are having relatives and friends send them other things from other parts of the country, things like baby food and toilet paper. People are sending in their taxes and using our photocopier.”
Rustic Bakery and Ming’s Restaurant are open for takeout, but the only customer visible March 17 was sitting outside in the courtyard. Ming’s had one or two patrons eating at tables, but the owner, who speaks limited English, couldn’t comment.
Tiburon’s Robin Scott Wray, of Boardwalk-based Robin Scott Catering, said every event she had this month has canceled and she’s now out of work. Wray, who writes The Ark’s Robin’s Recipes column in each edition, said she’s going to being offering dinner delivery services for $25 per person, with set menus for the week. Choices would include chicken marbella, salmon in parchment, chicken enchiladas, Swiss chard pie and honey-mustard-baked salmon, for example.
The Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society archives and business office, Custom House II antiques, Purple Monkey children’s hair salon and Corner Books used bookstore are all closed, as are the orthodontist and dentist’s offices behind R&S Services automotive garage.
The garage, however, was able to remain open, because it’s considered an essential service, as are Vogue Cleaners and Wells Fargo Bank.
On March 19, however, the bank’s corporate office announced it would close many branches. No one at the Boardwalk branch was able to comment on whether it was included.
The Cove Shopping Center
Farther up Tiburon Boulevard, The Cove Shopping Center parking lot has been full, as many of its businesses are either considered essential or allowed to remain open with reduced service.
Marin Cleaners, The UPS Store and Bank of Marin also are on the allowed list, but only the cleaners and UPS remain open.
Flourish floral design, Champagne Spa and Olympic Physical Therapy had to close.
Milano Ristorante, which recently changed hands, was closed for renovation.
Very little is open at Strawberry Village Shopping Center other than Safeway.
On March 18, the grocer announced that the hours between 6 and 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays would be reserved for senior citizens and those who are considered health-challenged — though Safeway is not enforcing the policy and expects shoppers to self-police.
“We are asking that our customers help us reserve this shopping time for those most at risk in our communities,” said spokeswoman Wendy Gutshal. “We thank our customers … for their compassion and understanding toward their neighbors and friends.”
Sweet-E Organic candy store is open noon to 2 p.m. for curbside service, while Woodlands Pet Food & Treats remains open and Thep Lela Thai is doing takeout business, its red neon sign a beacon of welcome. The Spanish Table, a purveyor of products from Spain, also stayed open because it sells food products.
In-N-Out Burger and Starbucks, as well as McDonald’s down the frontage road, are all open for takeout service.
Parranga Taqueria, Pizza Antica and High Tech Burrito all could have offered takeout or delivery service but chose to close.
Ram Print, Stretch Lab and Mike’s Camera — all service businesses that didn’t meet the definition of an essential service — were among the businesses that are closed.
Vogue Cleaners’ Strawberry location remained open as an essential service.
Local help for businesses
Fisher, the owner of Koze, said she hopes some of the commercial landlords will consider renegotiating their leases to lower the rent, so that the storeowners can use the savings to pay their employees.
Some residents hoped the town of Tiburon might help in some way, for example, by waiving business-license fees for this year or next.
“As this situation continues to evolve, we understand that the impacts of this on business will be significant,” said Tiburon Town Manager Greg Chanis. “I think the Town Council would be open to considering a variety of measures. It’s too early because we’re at the very beginning of this. For now, we are trying to (stay) alert for any new information we receive about help for business to the (Tiburon Peninsula) Chamber of Commerce. We’re relying on them to be the conduit.”
The chamber is working to keep its website up to date with information for business owners, including direct links to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s disaster loan assistance program and the Marin Small Business Development Center’s “Coping with COVID-19” webinars.
Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634.