Welcome to San Diego Blog | March 26, 2020

Which businesses are essential, amidst coronavirus stay at home order?

Over the weekend, roughly 40 million Californians adjusted to life under a completely new order to stay at home, even as questions lingered about what, exactly, that means.

It was a scenario that likely played out across San Diego County with the definition of the word “essential,” not wholly defined by the state, now the make-it-or-break-it business term of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of clarity carried into Friday with some neighborhood barbershops, doughnut makers, dog groomers, and other businesses are deciding they were either exempt or willing to endure the potential public shame of staying open. That’s because enforcement, at least for now, is being left up to the universal honor code.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate is clear, but only for about a dozen or so different industries. Grocery stores, gas stations, banks, laundromats and pharmacies are essential and can remain open. Alternatively, others — dine-in restaurants, bars and clubs, entertainment venues, gyms, public events, and conventions centers — must close immediately.

What exactly is “essential” in today’s uncertain brick-and-mortar world? As it stands, lattes are still being served through Starbucks drive-throughs, craft beers are available for pickup at local breweries, and cable TV and Internet sales staff are still reporting to Spectrum stores.

Businesses appear to be making the call on their own, with some leaning on the guidance provided to individual municipalities earlier in the week.

When seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area instituted their shelter-in-place mandate, officials included a more extensive range of businesses in their definition of essential, including hardware stores, plumbers, some legal services, and newspapers. Friday evening, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer clarified that home builders also fall into the go-to-work bucket.


Just Thursday, GameStop made headlines for a memo it sent to employees, assuring staff that the video game store was essential alongside groceries and pharmacies and should, therefore, be exempt from enforced closures. The company sells equipment necessary to work from home, devices many workers need now.

But not all electronics retailers are taking the same stance. Best Buy, for example, was open Friday in San Diego County, but only for limited shopping. A staffer met shoppers at the door and escorted them directly to the items they needed. Shoppers needed to know what they were buying. No browsing allowed. As of Saturday, however, Best Buy is shutting down its stores to the public, only allowing curbside pickup.

Although sheltering in place will surely spike demand for items like books, puzzles, and games, most bookstores are also closing down. Barnes and Noble, which had remained open as of Thursday, closed Friday morning. Staffers say the closure is immediate and indefinite.

Several local bookstores had already shuttered their physical stores earlier this week, including Bluestocking Books in Hillcrest and Mysterious Galaxy in the Midway District. South Park’s The Book Catapult had limited customer interaction to in-store pickups but sent out a memo to customers Friday morning with changes to that plan.

As of Saturday, no customers will be allowed in the store, even for pickups. Jennifer Powell, who co-owns The Book Catapult with her husband Seth Marko, spent Friday driving around San Diego to make deliveries to customers’ doors instead.

Real Estate

The “essential” label also proved to be a murky designation for San Diego County’s real estate agents, who just a few weeks ago were flying high in the hot housing market. As of press time, the California Association of Realtors had yet to release its opinion on what shelter in place meant for its roughly 190,000 members.

Which businesses are essential, amidst coronavirus stay at home order?

Gary Kent, a La Jolla-based real estate agent, said he believes agents fall under the financial services label, which is one of the 16 so-called “critical infrastructure structures” identified by the state. But he’s not planning on conducting business as usual.

Other agents said they would continue with the social distancing practices already implemented. Bonnie Phelps, of Palomar Mountain Real Estate, said she already doesn’t do open houses and is now also trying to maintain distance between clients.

Having a roof over your head is a basic human need and an essential service.

Pet necessities

Just like their human owners, pets need to eat. And take their meds. Such is the unwritten rule giving pet store owners, veterinarians, and even some groomers the confidence to carry on with their operations.

San Diego-based Petco said that its California stores would remain open. Similarly, Kahoots and Dirty Dogs & Meow, two local chains that specialize in harder to find foods, are telling their customers not to worry. And they have the backing of a major lobbying group, which has been working overtime to communicate the necessity of pet services to lawmakers.

The Virginia-based group, represented at the state level by a lobbyist based out of Sacramento, believes elected leaders know how essential pet services are to their constituents, but is also looking for some legal backup.

Here’s more about which businesses are considered essential:

On Friday, after the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect, officials posted a longer document laying out which firms and workers are considered crucial and how they’d be allowed to operate.

Among the businesses that will be allowed to keep operating are convenience stores that sell food, liquor stores, cannabis dispensaries, and laundromats.

Written by: Mia

Categories: Live/Work

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