Business Leaders Are Overjoyed By Eased Restrictions, But Reopening Could Take Time
Museums, movie theaters and gyms will be able to reopen indoors for limited capacity starting on Monday, as L.A. County eases restrictions based on declining coronavirus cases and increasing vaccinations. Industry leaders are ecstatic, but expect the transition to take time.
L.A. County is moving into the less restrictive "red tier" for the first time since the state metric was created last summer. On Friday, L.A. County Public Health officially announced the guidelines for businesses to start reopening:
- Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity.
- Movie theaters can open indoors at 25% capacity with reserved seating and 6 feet of distance between groups.
- Gyms, fitness centers, yoga and dance studios can open indoors, but only at 10% capacity.
- Indoor shopping malls can increase capacity to 50%, with food courts at 25% capacity.
- Retail stories can increase to 50% capacity.
Here's how some local businesses in these sectors are preparing to reopen.
This isn't the first time museums have been allowed to open indoor spaces during the pandemic, but the last reopening was short-lived. In June, the county eased restrictions, and by July, when cases surged, the state shut them back down again.
Most museums, including the L.A. County Museum of Art, weren't able to open in that tight window. So, for LACMA CEO Michael Govan, this reopening is a milestone.
"To be closed for a year has been devastating for our need to serve the public," he said. "We'll be on the shortest practical timeline. We plan to be open before the end of the month."
LACMA, which is considered SoCal's biggest museum, was able to keep staff on throughout the pandemic, in part thanks to government loans. Govan says they're already trained on COVID-19 safety protocols and the museum has been modified to make everything touchless.
"You can't touch art, of course, but now you can't even touch bathroom doors," Govan said.
The museum still needs to hire contract staff for security and maintenance, Govan said. He's confident once everything is finalized, patrons will be eager to come back.
"Ironically ... our tiny store was open but our giant galleries were not. So we had a lot of people coming to the store and wanting to come to the galleries," Govan said. "People have been deprived of that for a year."
John Echeveste, CEO of the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a museum of Latino history, art and culture across from Olvera Street, is also targeting the end of March for reopening.
"We had a couple of false starts last year, so it looks like this is real and it's all happening very very quickly," Echeveste said.
Like LACMA, LA Plaza also received a PPP loan and was able to keep all staff members employed through the last year. According to Echeveste, the next few weeks will be spent making sure all the health protocols are up to county standards.
In particular, Echeveste is excited for the public to see the exhibit "afroLAtinindad: mi casa, my city" which opened only weeks before the pandemic started.
Greg Laemmle is President of Laemmle Theaters, an 80-year old family business, specializing in art, foreign and independent films.
"This is great, hallelujah, we've been waiting for this for a year," Laemmle said. "Wish we had a little more warning, but that's really just about how quickly we're going to get open."
Laemmle expects it to take four to five weeks before his theaters will be able to show movies again. The company furloughed around 95% of its staff and will need to rehire and train them. Plus, Laemmle said, it might not end up being worth it to reopen in the near term at only 25% capacity.
"We're still running the numbers," he said. "It's better to be open, but if opening is actually not going to cover the cost ... we're going to have to leave those venues mothballed."
With the potential exception of one venue, Laemmle expects all of his theaters to make it through to the end of the pandemic. He's hopefully that after a year of streaming content, people will want to come back.
"I'd like to think that part of that experience was recognizing how much better it is to see a movie in a movie theater and how much they miss it, and how much they're really going to treasure that opportunity once they can do it again," Laemmle said.
Indoor malls in L.A. County have already been open for over a month at 25% capacity. Once the county enters the red tier, indoor malls will be able to expand to 50% percent capacity.
Jackie Levy is Chief Business Officer of Caruso properties, which manages The Grove and Americana malls. Since their sites are outdoors, the county's capacity restrictions don't apply to the facilities as a whole, but entering the red tier does allow indoor retailers to expand up to 50% capacity.
"A lot of retailers have had lines outside of their stores. We're pleased that those lines will be more limited," Levy said. He's hopeful the eased restrictions will bring more customers to the malls.