As business picks up for Oregon establishments after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are creating their own guidelines regarding wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and cleaning.
Public Health Madison Dane County removed its COVID-19 restrictions for masking and capacity limits on June 2, leaving it up to owners and managers of individual businesses in Oregon to keep customers healthy and feeling comfortable.
And those customers have begun returning, six businesses who spoke with the Observer said.
At Academy of Sound, in-person lessons returned June 14, after instruction had been 100% online for 15 months. Owner Erin Chisman held several staff meetings to see what her teachers were comfortable with at the 408 N. Bergamont Blvd. music school and decided to require masks in public spaces but leave each classroom up to the teachers.
At Oregon Frozen Yogurt, customers are still asked to be mindful of distancing when they go to get their toppings, co-owner Tina Juneau said. The 856 Janesville St. shop limits one or two people in line at a time to avoid crowding people who didn’t arrive together, she said.
At Wishing Tree Studio, 121 N. Main St., getting yoga students outside is one solution to meeting varied comfort levels, Co-founder Jo Temte said. Her customers have been slow to come back inside her studio with masks being optional.
“People are really happy we are moving in a direction, but there’s still some hesitance to come back inside, especially unmasked,” she said.
At Miracles in Massage, 1015 N. Main St., owner Jeanne Snow and other therapists are still wearing masks when they’re in sessions with customers, but masks are optional for clients. It’s the same at Peaceful Heart gift shop, 123 S. Main St., where owner Doris Deits and her staff will mask-up, but customers are not required to browse the store’s spiritual and metaphysical goods.
With the loosening of protocols, Peaceful Heart has experienced quite a big increase in business over the past month, Deits said. She said the store was doing well throughout the pandemic, but now people are coming in bigger groups of families and friends.
“People seem much more relaxed in that way,” Deits said.
Some still masking up
For some businesses, the masking policy varies by situation.
During June at the Maitri Center for Mindful Living, 120 N. Main St., owner Kelly Petrie required that masks be worn as people entered into the yoga and mindfulness center as well as when people were practicing yoga.
But starting in July, vaccinated adults are being given the option that if they are on their cushion or mat, they have the option to take off their masks. For the unvaccinated, Petrie requests people keep their masks on, but doesn’t require proof of vaccination status.
Children who are ineligible for vaccines are required to wear masks, as are adults when those children are present, Petrie added.
Many of the instructees are remaining masked up, Petrie said.
“Most of my clients are very cautious and willing to continue safety protocols for the benefit and safety of everyone,” she said. “It’s nice to be getting back to normalcy, but we know about what’s going on around the world with this Delta Variant – we want to remain cautious and don’t want to start backtracking.”
Chisman’s plan had always been to continue following whatever Dane County recommended or mandated, she said, so when mandates ended in June, she decided to loosen up. Now, masks are only required in public spaces such as the lobby and bathroom, but each teacher gets to decide their own classroom’s rules.
That could change on a weekly basis as comfort levels change, Chisman said.
Wearing a mask is important to Petrie because she’s not the only business in her building. She shares a common area with a chiropractor and massage therapist, so they are conscientious of one another, she said.
“People are being gracious, looking out for the community as a whole, which I appreciate,” she said.
Some businesses continue to limit the number of customers sharing space, while others have come up with other ways to establish comfortable distance.
Both Maitri Center and Wishing Tree continue to cap class sizes below their pre-pandemic maximums.
For her in-studio classes, Petrie is limiting participation to seven students, which she said is around 30% of capacity. People are still spaced out six feet apart, with designated areas to lay mats, or place chairs and cushions.
Temte is also keeping lower numbers inside and her classes are at about half capacity of what her studio could hold, she said.
She’s removed the floor markings that dictated distance, but after-class tea time and chit-chatting have not been allowed to return yet, Temte said.
At Oregon Frozen Yogurt, people making up their own cups of yogurt and toppings has been the biggest thing to change for the shop as pandemic restrictions have loosened, Juneau said. During the height of the pandemic, employees would put toppings on for customers, so staff have since needed to be retrained on self-service, co-owner Randy Joswig said.
“It allows us to go back to the way we wanted the business to be – about the experience,” she said.
Other places have continued to keep people apart by completely removing communal spaces such as the reception area and usage of the front desk.
While Miracles in Massage therapists used to check people out in the common area at a reception desk – now they tend to take payments from the individual massage rooms so that there are not multiple clients congregating in the common area, Snow said.
“Now people come right straight to the room and finish up in the room,” she said.
At Oregon Frozen Yogurt, some of the seating is also still removed. The store had a “cozy corner” area with couches that were removed to allow for more spacing-out of the tables, Joswig said. Though they have added some additional tables outside to make up for it and haven’t heard a big demand for any more seating inside, he said.
Peaceful Heart offers customers tarot card and aura readings, and plexiglass divider shields will remain between the readers and the clients, Deits said.
And at Academy of Sound, some teachers are still standing six feet apart from students, whereas usually pre-pandemic they would stand or sit right next to students, Chisman said.
As scientists and health experts came to a better understanding of how the coronavirus was spread last year, federal and local guidelines reduced the focus on surface cleaning procedures.
But disinfecting and following advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains a high priority for some businesses.
While Deits said her cleaning procedures at Peaceful Heart are not as vigilant now as they were at the height of the pandemic, she said some cleaning habits she doesn’t think she could undo now even if she tried.
Some procedures, such as cleaning the door handles every 15 minutes or between customers – she’s down to several times a day, but other things like cleaning countertops and the register routinely she’s gotten used to now, she said.
For employees at Oregon Frozen Yogurt, there was a lot more focus on cleaning and sanitizing last year. But as the business transitioned back to allowing customers to layer their own toppings, there has been a shift of focus for the employees to replacing spoons, cutting fruits and keeping the yogurt machines full, Joswig said.
The cleaning procedures at Miracles and Massaged increased last year in April, and have been maintained all the way through until now, Snow said, such as wiping down surfaces between clients.
Business picks up
Customers are starting to return to businesses, and doing so in larger groups.
In 2019, Oregon Frozen Yogurt was hitting some of its top sales numbers in its fifth year of business, Joswig said. Comparing the numbers this year to 2019, they’ve been even stronger than two years ago, he said.
“We hit a perfect storm in a lot of ways – really nice weather, riding that heat wave, restrictions lifted,” Juneau said. “People are excited, people want ice cream.”
Meanwhile, Snow has seen “a huge increase” in massage bookings over the last month at Miracles in Massage. Much of that is coming from new clientele, she said.
“We weren’t hurting before, but now we’re booking out further, more appointments, more calls and scheduling,” she said.
All of Petrie’s classes at Maitri Center have gained traction in terms of people signing up, she said.
And while summer tends to be a low season at Wishing Tree, people are buying memberships and passes, even if they haven’t yet used them, Temte said.
While Academy of Sound maintained almost all of its students in the switch from in-person to online instruction, a couple students who didn’t move online are now back for in-person lessons.
“I would say in the first couple of days back, we saw some people a little bit nervous coming in — more on social anxiety side — but we saw that subside very quickly,” Chisman said. “Once everyone got into the groove, it felt like home again.”