Downtown Murphys was quiet, as a cloudy sky rested overhead Tuesday afternoon. As a gentle rain began to fall, only a handful of people were roaming the streets. For the past two months, the majority of the shops in downtown Murphys have been closed because of COVID-19. The once heavily visited street became more reminiscent of a desolate wasteland, rather than a bustling tourist destination.
But things changed on May 15. For the first time since mid-March, business owners were allowed to return to their shops and change the sign on the front door from “closed” to “open.” However, even though lights are now turned on and doors are opened, it is still taking time for visitors to return to the shops they once frequented on a regular basis.
“I think this is more depressing, to be honest with you,” said Susan Giannini, who has owned Shirt Tales Boutique in Murphys for 16 years. “Even though we were sheltered in place, I would come every day to my business, lock the door and just go upstairs and do paperwork and canceling or pushing back orders. But I knew that nobody would be shopping, and that would be a zero day. But now that I can be open and people aren’t coming in, that’s what’s really bothering me.”
Knowing that people might have reservations when it comes to walking into a small shop, Giannini, like most business owners, has gone above and beyond to make sure comfort and safety remains a top priority.
Upon entering Shirt Tales Boutique, there are signs that remind customers about social distancing, using hand sanitizer, and asking people not to come in if they are sick or coughing. Giannini also has masks, gloves and sanitizer for anyone interested, and has also rearranged her store layout, as to give people more room while roaming around.
The two months that the doors were closed filled Giannini with the fear of the unknown.
“I went from working every day and running my business and doing good, to shutting down with no money coming in, all within a blink of an eye,” Giannini said. “I tried to pretend that this was only going to be short-term. When they first said two weeks, I said, ‘OK. Two weeks is OK.’ But when it started extending out, I started to get really concerned because I had no idea when we’d get to come back, if we could ever come back.”
Further down on Main Street, the doors to Murphys Motorcycle Company were once again opened. Like Shirt Tales Boutique, Murphys Motorcycle Company was forced to close down shop in mid-March. Owner Roy Beck, who is a former agriculture teacher at Bret Harte High School, tried curbside sales, which didn’t go as smoothly as he imagined.
“It was slow and it was awkward,” Beck said with a mask covering his face, while standing behind the counter that has a plastic cover coming down from the ceiling. “I had a table across the front and people could look in and see, but they couldn't touch anything. Business is way, way, way down. Over the last two weekends, I’m eight times lower than I was at this time last year.
And just like Shirt Tales Boutique, Murphys Motorcycle Company was able to return to full business on May 15. Beck knows that his business is not the only one that has taken a hit, but he remains hopeful that local shoppers will help support businesses like his through this unprecedented time and feels that the extra precautions made will seem inviting to those passing by.
“I think it’ll take some time moving forward for people to feel comfortable and that’s why I’ve done everything that I’ve done in here to try and make it as safe as possible for our customers, so they feel comfortable coming into the shop,” Beck said. “I’m optimistic and hopefully we’ll bounce back from this.”
While Giannini and Beck are hopeful for the future, Dana Milgrim, owner of Sac A Main, has decided that her future will no longer involve Calaveras County. After owning her purse store since 2000, Milgrim has decided that after battling through fires, PG&E and Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), COVID-19 was the final straw.
“COVID-19 was my cue,” said Milgrim, who plans on moving out of California. “I couldn’t do business for two months, but my landlord was still expecting rent. I paid my rent and when you don’t have it coming in and it’s all going out, that was my cue. I just can’t recover from that. I lost tens of thousands of dollars by being closed.”
Sac A Main will not be the only business unable to recover from having its doors locked for nearly two months, and those that try to remain open will have an uphill battle. But for Giannini, while she misses her typical income, she also misses the relationships that she has made with people who have walked through her doors the past 16 years.
“I have a great clientele at my shop and I’ve developed several personal relationships with them and a lot of times people will come in and I’m excited to see them and we’ll hug each other and now, we can’t do that,” Giannini said. “That little charm of a personal relationship with your customer is missing – for now.”