October 30, 2020

Alameda County Business Owner: ‘I’m Just Devastated’

ALAMEDA COUNTY, CA — Tammy Schneickert, owner of Castro Valley gym D’s Fitness Designed 4 Women, was ecstatic when she got word that state health officials had moved Alameda County into the red tier Tuesday, indicating that fitness centers could reopen indoors at 10 percent capacity.

She was prepared to reopen and had thought of all the details: blocking off every other cardio machine to maintain social distancing, ensuring proper ventilation, protecting front desk staff and keeping an ultra-clean environment. The only question in her mind was whether she could reopen immediately or if she’d have to wait a few days.

The answer, as it turned out, was neither.

Soon after the state’s announcement, Alameda County made its own. Rather than allow more businesses to open indoors at reduced capacity, the county said it would take the next two weeks to ensure reopenings were safe and create its own phased reopening plan.

“At this time, there is no change to permitted or prohibited activities in Alameda County,” the county said.

The news was devastating, said Schneickert, her voice breaking with emotion.

Shopping centers, restaurants, worship houses and nail salons were also among the businesses and services cleared by the state to reopen indoors, with restrictions, in red-tier counties.

“‘This is just a godsend,’ I’m thinking,” she said. “And then to be slapped in the face … my hands are tied, I have no choice.”

Schneickert said she lost half of her members over the past six months as she transitioned to online and outdoor classes. She had fallen behind on rent for a couple of months.

Clients using outdoor classes have been loving it, Schneickert said, but it’s not the same. She can’t lug 500-pound ellipticals outside every day. There’s cars passing through the parking lot area where her makeshift gym has been set up. Clients don’t get the same level of accountability that you get in group classes.

And recent weeks have been especially tough, she said. Between the smoke from wildfires and high heat, it hasn’t been an ideal exercise environment.

Schneickert speculates that depriving people of gyms could also be detrimental to public health, since exercising is a way to alleviate stress and live a healthy lifestyle.

She wonders: What makes the county think they know better than the state, if they’re all looking at the same data?

“They’re going to have lots of healthy people but no businesses,” Schneickert said. “This is our livelihood. I certainly don’t want to hurt anybody but they’re devastating my life, my world, my business, my community.”

“It’s just wrong. I’m just angry.”

In Pleasanton, SideTrack Bar + Grill owner Todd Utikal said the process had been a long and frustrating one, but he was at peace with the news. He was just happy not to be going backwards and see additional restrictions imposed on businesses.

He said he feels for fitness centers and salons, which he believes are in a more difficult position.

Utikal counted his blessings. There’s the good weather that makes outdoor dining possible, the weekend closures of Main Street that draw business to downtown and the fact that he’s been back open since June.

While he might not make money, Utikal believes he’ll get through this period. In some ways, the economic situation has been a good thing for his business. Utikal said he’s looking at every penny spent — something he wouldn’t have done in more profitable times — and thinks his business will ultimately come out stronger.

“What’s two more weeks when we’re in this thing for over six months,” he said.

While he acknowledges that not all in the restaurant business have taken the news so well, Utikal said he plans to forge ahead with a positive attitude. When it’s time to reopen indoors, he’ll be ready to do so with a day’s notice, he said.

“You have to adapt and some businesses are kind of refusing to … some, it just doesn’t fit their business model,” he said.

Still, many are unhappy to hear that restaurants will not be moving more business indoors. People have been calling Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s Office, seeking an explanation.

Read: Alameda County Moves Into Red Tier, But No Businesses Reopening

— Bay City News contributed to this report

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