As fears surrounding COVID-19 spiked in the U.S. last week, leading to widespread hoarding of toilet paper and other staples, David Goldy saw an opportunity.
The owner of Lompoc’s Wild West Pizza and Grill, Goldy began a promotion in which the coveted bathroom tissues were treated like currency: Eight rolls could get you one large pizza. Goldy planned to donate the cashed-in rolls to area homeless shelters.
“We were just trying to have a little fun with it, to lighten up the situation,” Goldy said Monday in front of his shop, one of Lompoc’s many small businesses that will be tested as residents shelter in place amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
The toilet paper promotion didn’t prove as successful as Goldy thought it would — just three customers exchanged the toiletries for pizza, suggesting Goldy underestimated the item’s newfound value — so the owner called an audible the next day and began giving away a roll of toilet paper with each pizza purchase.
“That proved really popular,” he said. “We went through all the toilet paper pretty quickly; it proved to be a hot commodity.”
That’s just one of the ways that local businesses have adapted to the current outbreak, which has led to nationwide restrictions on public gatherings and caused some entire industries to nearly grind to a halt.
In Lompoc, the ramifications of the pandemic are being felt across several sectors, including government, restaurants, grocery stores, bars and nightclubs, cannabis dispensaries and even noncommercial gathering places like churches.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Goldy said.
Dealing with the rush
Grocery stores have remained busy — and their shelves mostly empty — as residents have built stockpiles of food and supplies they hope will last for however long they are advised to stay sheltered.
The Lompoc Grocery Outlet, which is owned by Aaron and Alix Crocker, reported record-setting sales and larger-than-usual crowds over the past several days.
"Our customers have been amazing so far and the vibe in-store has been very understanding," Aaron Crocker, who has joined his wife behind the register during the store's all-hands-on-deck approach, said Tuesday. "We’re doing all we can to take care of everyone."
The Crockers have used social media to keep locals informed about when certain items are scheduled to be delivered and made available for purchase.
Along with grocery items, people seem to also be stocking up on cannabis — evidenced by lines forming outside some dispensaries — as a potentially monthslong period of isolation looms.
Rob McKee, CEO of the downtown Elevate Lompoc dispensary, said his shop hasn’t seen any significant changes in its daily business, but he noted that store management has implemented measures to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Among the changes: The dispensary is utilizing a wait-list system to control the number of customers waiting in its lobby at any given time, and customers are being advised to place orders online or for home delivery.
“We have decided to assist our community members and have lowered our delivery minimums, as well as offering 25% off for the duration of this restriction so that our customers can still obtain products during this stressful time,” McKee said.
While several businesses and organizations continue to operate during the crisis, there is no guarantee on how long that will last.
At least 16 Lompoc restaurants now are offering curbside pick-up or other options to safely accommodate guests.
A Facebook post from Mike and Nellie Sewall, the owners of Alfie's Fish and Chips, noted the curbside option would be available every day except for Fridays during Lent.
"We’re committed to providing the highest quality food and a safe place to enjoy it in; please rest assured that we are taking every precaution and upholding the highest health and cleanliness standards to maintain the safest environment possible," read a portion of that post.
The city of Lompoc is among the local employers that have remained in business, albeit with increased safety measures.
Lompoc's 2020 SpringFest celebration, which typically kicks off the local festival calendar, was canceled Friday amid growing concern surrounding COVID-19, the coronavirus that has become a global pandemic.
Although the city closed some facilities, like the Aquatic Center and library branches, as of Tuesday it had not completely closed any of its departments or divisions and has continued to provide services.
City employees, according to a spokeswoman, have been offered the option of taking time off from work and anyone who feels unwell has been asked to not come to work. The city has not mandated that any employees stay away.
For Tuesday night’s scheduled City Council meeting — the first since the widespread restrictions went into effect — the city encouraged community members to participate remotely by following on TV (Comcast Channel 23), radio (KPEG 100.9 FM) or online (cityoflompoc.com), and by submitting comments via email to maintain social distancing.
Additionally, the city is accepting utility payments via its drop-box, rather than in person; the Lompoc police and fire departments have suspended all station tours; Lompoc Jail visits have been suspended, except for meetings with attorneys; and large gatherings are not permitted at any city facilities.
“Other measures could be taken in the coming days as the situation evolves,” said Samantha Scroggin, a public information officer for the city.
The city isn’t alone in implementing measures to limit contact between people.
At Wild West Pizza, Goldy said he has shut down the salad bar and is now offering contact-free delivery through which customers who prepay will have their pizzas left on top of an empty box at their door while the deliverer remains 10 feet away.
He said he also planned to, beginning Tuesday, give away bottles of water with pizza purchases.
At Elevate Lompoc, according to McKee, the general manager is a registered nurse who oversees general disinfecting and sanitizing of the store.
“We take our customers' and staff's safety as paramount and will follow any and all instructions that the state has issued,” McKee said. “We have increased our cleaning procedures to continually disinfect public areas [and] we offer hand sanitizers at every station.”
Navigating a new course
Some of the hardest-hit businesses likely will be bar and entertainment venues.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, keeping in line with the state's public health department, recommended that bars, clubs, breweries and wineries be shut down entirely amid the ongoing crisis.
The church community is also feeling the effects of the ongoing health crisis.
Following its March 15 Sunday service, Lompoc’s Foursquare Church canceled its upcoming in-person services and will instead turn to livestreams.
“As you go about your week, we encourage you to be considerate of those around you and stay home if you are not feeling well,” read a message on the church’s website at lompocfoursquare.com.
“With services going online, we have done our best to make your online experience as easy as possible,” it concluded.
Other churches have taken a different approach. La Purisima Concepcion Catholic Church has canceled all daily and weekend Masses, along with all other activities, under an order from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
McKee said he intends to keep Elevate Lompoc open for as long as possible. He advised that everyone follow the recommendations of health officials and wash their hands frequently and avoid physical contact with others — including when consuming cannabis.
“Try to avoid sharing cannabis with others of any kind, whether that be joints, bowls, bongs, pipes, blunts, vapes, etc.,” he said. “This is an ongoing process and we want to work with our community.”
The Crockers shared similar advice.
"Check in on your neighbors," Aaron said. "There are many folks out there who might not have someone to advocate for them. We are doing as much as we can to get help to these groups. We’re all in this together."
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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