Dodgers Are At Home, But The 'Hood Is Quiet
As the L.A. Dodgers took on archrival San Francisco Giants at home for their first day game of the season, the crowds of fans in blue were missing from Chavez Ravine.
They weren't at nearby Guisados either for the tacos or horchata goosed with food coloring to glow Dodger blue. Nor at Sunset Beer Company up the street nursing frothy glasses of draft Pilsner. The ban on fans in the stands during the pandemic means area businesses that count on heavy foot traffic from Dodger Stadium are sorely missing those sales.
"We would always prepare for that end-of-the-game rush," said the Beer Company's general manager, Bennett Erickson. The pandemic has forced the business into retail-only sales. "Yeah, it's going to be a long time until we get one of those again, sadly."
The pandemic had quieted the hubbub of Echo Park on game day, so Saturday resembled any other day of the quarantine. Sunset Boulevard was easily navigable, with ample parking.
It was a huge contrast for employees at Guisados, where a line would usually form before and after any Dodger game and snake past the auto body shop down the block.
Raquelle Wallace, a server at the restaurant, said as many as 800 customers would visit on game day, compared to the 200 or so they would likely see today.
"If there was a Dodgers game, from 1 to 2:30 it would be like, exploding," Wallace said. "Like cars parked everywhere, people standing to eat."
Saturday afternoon's line at Guisados was never more than a few customers deep. Tables in the popular outdoor dining area sat vacant. Wallace missed the festive atmosphere of game days when they would make a special drink.
"The kids would come in and be like, freaking out over the blue horchata," Wallace said.
On those days, she didn't mind being busy: "Honestly, it made the time go faster, because there wasn't a moment where you weren't doing something."
Guisados customer Iliana Tellez said she missed being able to visit Dodgers Stadium with her family, which includes three children under 10. They typically make it to 10 games per season.
"Since you're there, it's more realistic, you're living in the moment," said Tellez, an educational coach for school kids. On TV, she said, "it's just like any other TV show that you watch."
Another customer, Michelle Rybka, is new to Echo Park and lives just minutes away from Dodger Stadium on foot -- which has become a joke among friends because she is a Giants fan.
Rybka, a pediatrician, said she would have gone to the stadium to watch a matchup between the longtime foes.
"I'm not going to watch the game alone at home," Rybka said. "It was as much of a social and work break as it was a love of the game."
Farther up Sunset Boulevard, a slow but steady trickle of customers visited Sunset Beer Co. to pick up orders made over the phone or online. In pre-Covid days, customers could not only shop, but also drink on-site. A customer named Logan Garrity gave Erickson, the general manager, his wish list.
"Can I do like four of those Bell's Oberon?" asked Garrity, an administrative assistant at a consulting firm.
"I only have the mango Oberon right now," Erickson said. "It's good. It's not too sweet."
He went inside and minutes later came back with Garitty's order in a red plastic basket.
"It feels a little clandestine, you know, doing these, like, dead drops outside the side door," Erickson said.
Erickson said he's very concerned about Covid striking any of his staff -- usually just one or two hourly workers joining him on shifts.
"We are running on such a small skeleton crew that if we get sick, it really can put us under right away," Erickson said.
He said sales plummeted by 50% at the beginning of the stay-at-home orders issued in March. They've dropped another 10% in recent weeks "as people are starting to hold on to their money a little more," he said.
"It's really just about treading water at this point, I would say," he said.
Erickson, an obvious people person who enjoys talking about the finer points of IPA with customers, seemed to miss the crowds as much as his sales.
"Not having baseball is a major, major blow to us," Erickson said. "The neighborhood just seems deserted. It just feels like a different reality."