Reopenings Under Way But its Not Business as Usual

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(Contributed Photo)
Patrons enjoy an evening outside the Orinda Theatre where theme nights are planned on Friday and Saturday.

    When Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaims certain establishments can re-open, it doesn’t mean instantly reverting to “business as usual” as in the days preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Individuals might have the green light to shop, dine in restaurants or attend theatrical performances, but astute business owners are realizing it may take some time before the masses feel comfortable venturing into public, indoor spaces, especially in Orinda.
    Maureen Brown, owner and proprietor of the popular upscale consignment boutique Rechic used the down time provided by “The Great Pause” to pivot and completely re-imagine her “pre-loved clothing” business model.
    “I wanted my store to better serve this community,” she said. “I now provide online shopping, personal shopping services, shipping and local delivery options, curb-side pickup, gift cards and additional benefits to my consignors.”
    As much as people are eager for life to return to normal, business owners, and especially small business owners with close ties to the community, carry the added weight of feeling responsible for customers’ health and safety.
    Brown said she feels fortunate she has other sales platforms on which to build, to keep her business alive. Customers can now shop online via ShopRechic.com and on Instagram and Facebook.
    “I feel very responsible for my customers’ and my employees’ health and safety. I never judge anyone for the degree to which they choose to open their business. I’m just grateful I can explore new ways of growing my business right now,” she said.
    Given the community-based nature of the consignment industry (the shorter the distance consumer goods must travel, the lesser the carbon footprint), Brown said she has always envisioned her boutique as a friendly gathering place, complete with a comfy sofa. She also offers handcrafted cocktails and wine tastings at social hours.
    For now, however, “re-opening will look different,” she said. While her shop at 101 Orinda Way will not be open for walk-in traffic in the immediate future, she is available by phone, email or the website.
    In addition, Brown signed the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a nationwide petition urging wholesalers to tag black-owned vendors so that business owners may more easily and intentionally support this market. The end goal is for 15 percent of Rechic’s retail merchandise to be supplied by black-owned vendors. Fifteen Percent was chosen because black Americans comprise 15 percent of the population.
    Meanwhile, across the highway in the Theatre District, Orinda Theatre owner Derek Zemrak reassures patrons the iconic theater eventually will reopen for business, but, like Rechic, many details of what a reopening will actually entail are yet to be determined.
    “My most frequently asked questions these days are ‘Will your theater reopen?’ and ‘What will it look like?’” Zemrak said.
    Even though the governor approved movie theaters to open in June, Zemrak said the timeline remains ambiguous. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode right now. We’re doing everything we can to generate some revenue to keep the lights on and pay the landlord.”
    Zemrak described another roadblock: Studios don’t even have new films to release at this time, as all production ceased during the shutdown. The film industry has only recently been given the okay to cautiously resume shooting, so the entire supply-chain process is unpredictable.
    Zemrak said that while studios have generously offered to release classic films at discounted prices, with the popularity of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime, consumers are not really interested in spending money to view older films. “It’s not simply a matter of flipping a switch and picking up where we left off,” he said.
    The process of reopening involves planning and changes. He must revamp ticket sales to adhere to the new mandate of socially distanced seating and reduced seating, as well as implement new regulations involving health and safety.
    To provide “life support” for the Orinda Theatre until it resumes full functionality, a Go Fund Me account was created. At press time, they were within $5,000 of making their $25,000 goal.
    “Many people don’t realize how much money it takes to keep a business alive when you can no longer operate,” he said. “My electricity bill alone is at least $1,800 a month.”
    The theater has been selling gift cards, available for redemption once it reopens, and their Friday night wine and popcorn sales have been an effective way to move stock and generate some sales.
    Ingenuity is key. Zemrak, who also owns Cine Cuvee, the cozy wine bar next door, moves tables outside and serves wine and hors d’ouvres on the front patio in the evening when the weather cooperates. (Read more in Reel on Page 18.)
    “The continued expression of support warms our hearts,” Zemrak said.

(Contributed Photo)
Maureen Brown, owner of Rechic, says the pandemic gave her time to expand services online.

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