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Business owners plead with local officials to ‘Reopen Turlock’
reopen Turlock
Businesses that have been deemed non-essential under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, like Salon Two Zero Nine, are advocating for Turlock’s economy to reopen through online organization (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

As hundreds rallied in front of the California State Capitol on Friday in protest of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, a Facebook group created by Turlock business owners who want to go back to work continued to gain momentum online.

The private group on the social networking site called “Reopen Turlock” has rapidly grown to over 1,200 members since it was created by salon owner Mariah Williams on Tuesday, serving as a space where the community is sharing how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their businesses and lending each other support.

Earlier this week, Newsom announced a four-phase plan to reopen the state. California is currently in the first phase, he said, as government and private organizations continue working to make it more consistently safe for essential workers. Phase two will see lower-risk businesses — factories, retail stores, schools and child care — and public spaces reopen with modifications to allow for social distancing. “Higher-risk” businesses, like nail and hair salons, gyms, movie theaters, sports without live audiences and in-person religious services are included in phase three. The fourth and final phase will mark the end of the state’s stay-at-home order, when concerts, conventions and sports with spectators in the stands will return.

Newsom originally said on Tuesday that these phases could be weeks, not months, away. On Friday, however, he moved from that statement to say that California could adjust the stay-at-home orders in “days” as protests raged on outside.

Still, without an official end date to the orders announced, business owners throughout the state and in Turlock are pushing to reopen sooner rather than later.

“We were hoping and praying that May 1 would be our open date, and we were well aware it could be pushed back to May 15 or even June 1. When this first order came out, we were under the impression that we would need to stay at home for a couple of weeks and we would be compensated for it,” Williams said.

She and many other Turlock business owners in the Facebook group have yet to receive any kind of coronavirus aid other than their stimulus checks, she said. Williams has applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment and four different grants, but hasn’t received any assistance.

“We thought that once we stayed home and flattened the curve they speak of, we would be able to go back to work,” Williams said.

The “Reopen Turlock” group hopes both Mayor Amy Bublak and the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors will hear their pleas. Several jurisdictions have defied the state’s orders, like Modoc County, and Fresno Mayor Lee Brand unveiled his own methodical approach to reopening businesses on Friday.

Williams said salon owners are especially upset that their businesses are included in Newsom’s second-to-last phase of reopening. Stylists in the group have reached out to County Board Chair Kristin Olsen with ideas to open salons sooner, but with modifications in place: masks, gloves and seeing only one client at a time.

“We’re not saying let’s just disregard everything and go back to work. We’re saying we want to go back, but with extreme precautions,” Williams said. “As stylists, we take so many months to learn how to prevent infection and the spread of disease...we know that people are safer in our salon than at Walmart, Target, Costco — any of those places.”

In an email to a stylist, Olsen responded to these ideas.

“I understand and share your concern about the governor putting salons into Stage 3 and not delegating decision-making to local counties,” she wrote. “I agree that there are ways we could safely reopen salons...and I believe that the data and hospitalization rates we’re seeing in our county warrant a safe reopening. I will continue to work on this issue, in hopes that we may be able to act before the timeline Governor Newsom has announced.”

Other businesses apart from Turlock’s salons have been hit hard by the pandemic as well, like MBS Harvesting LLC in Hilmar, where owner Bobbett Bettencourt fears for her livelihood and the agriculture industry. Monique Tribble is worried that the hard work she’s put in over the years to own a downtown photography studio will soon be lost. The popular downtown paint and sip business Rembrandt & Rosé told the Journal this week that it can no longer sustain its brick and mortar location and will be moving to a completely virtual platform.

Gabrielle Forrest, owner of Alegria Performing Arts Academy, said she has moved classes online but it’s not the same.

“Dance is also an extra expense that many families may not be able to afford if they’re not bringing in the same amount of income they usually do. This is unsustainable for businesses like mine,” Forrest said. “I was compliant to close down to flatten the curve when this all started, but I am eager to reopen and continue teaching, even if it’s at reduced capacity. Businesses can offer safe, socially distant measures. Give us a chance to do so, so that we can continue to contribute to our community.”

In a statement to the Journal, Mayor Bublak said that in light of the 94 Turlock Rehabilitation and Nursing Center residents who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and the seven who have died, now “is not the time to cease our efforts to thwart expansion of the virus.” She pointed out that Turlock has twice the number of deaths as the rest of the county, adding that the full reach of the rehab center’s infections is not yet known.

Bublak said she remains in contact with Emanuel Hospital, and even called Mayor Penny Sweet of Kirkland, Washington, for advice, as her city was the first in the country with a senior care facility invaded by the virus.

“Mayor Sweet gave me advice and ended, ‘be on guard, test, test again,’” Bublak said.

In addition, Bublak cited the lack of a vaccine for the virus, its ability to be spread by droplets and its nearly-undetectable incubation period as reasons she believes the City should proceed with caution.

“I want our city’s businesses open. As Mayor, I worry often about our fragile, and now endangered, city finances. But I know that we cannot increase the risk to our residents by ignoring medical and scientific advice. I revere the constitution. But the constitution does not allow some to endanger the lives of others,” Bublak said. “We will get through this by working together, acting with common sense and vigilantly taking action to stop, shrink and then eliminate COVID-19 from our city. United We Stand!”

Turlock City Manager Toby Wells added that while Turlock can implement more restrictive orders, the City cannot loosen restrictions and will follow state law until the orders are changed. In mid-April, the City Council voted in favor of fining businesses that do not abide by the stay-at-home orders.

“Once the state order changes, the county would then need to change their order as well,” Wells said.

Regardless, the “Reopen Turlock” Facebook group marches forward with plans for a protest along Geer Road on May 9 and a coordinated effort to open their businesses together.

“I’m floored by the response. Every day I’m accepting hundreds of requests from people who want to be in the group,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, we don’t want the ‘cure’ to be worse than the virus.”