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Petaluma observes Day 1 of shelter-in-place order

A drink in hand, Rick Williams sat slumped at Café Zazzle’s window-facing high top table, surveying Kentucky Street as the first lunch hour under the countywide lockdown hit Petaluma. Wrapped in an apron and sporting slip-resistant shoes, he could easily jump into the kitchen and assemble any item on the menu. But for hours, none came.

He and wife Tara Williams have operated the popular downtown restaurant for more than 14 years. Joining her husband at the window, Tara Williams wondered aloud if they’ll make it to 15.

“I hate to say it, but I honestly don’t know if we will survive this,” Rick Williams said.

It’s a question on the minds of many Petaluma business owners Wednesday, the first full day of the county’s shelter-in-place order that will drag on for the next three weeks. Kentucky Street, one of the city’s most densely populated commercial areas, bore its effects, with business after business shuttered.

A handful like Café Zazzle remained open Wednesday afternoon, hoping things wouldn’t be as bad as they expected, hoping they can still somehow make things work.

The couple made the switch to takeout orders only as required, and shaved down their operating hours, opening up at noon and closing at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. But Tara said she’s even reluctant to tell people what the new business hours are, anticipating she may have to restrict them further, depending on how the first few days of the lockdown go.

“We’re playing it day by day, things could change after tonight,” Tara Williams said. “There’s just nothing to compare it to, not even the fires, so we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mid-sentence, her eyes caught movement, following a neighboring shopkeeper walking down the street before disappearing behind a door marked “closed,” into a darkened clothing boutique. During a normal day, she might expect them to stop in and place an order.

“We’ve lost all the shoppers and shop-keepers as on this street as well as regular diners,” Tara Williams said. “Any other day they would normally come in and grab a bite or get lunch to go.”

Inside Ethical Clothing across the street from Café Zazzle, owner Kathy Jeter was taking stock, contemplating how to continue to sell merchandise during the lockdown.

“I think I’m going to be here every day doing something, mainly setting up ways to start selling things through social media,” Jeter said.

The boutique doesn’t have an online martketplace set up, not seeing the need after enjoying years of regular walk-in traffic at their central downtown location. Like many other businesses, she’s thinking about new ways of marketing her products, spending these first few days adjusting to what will be a remarkably difficult period for storefront owners.

Jeter said her clothing shop is disadvantaged by not having an online marketplace, which some businesses are relying on as the lockdown order forces small businesses to discover new ways to make a profit. It’s something she says neighboring shopkeepers and members of the Petaluma business community are actively discussing, forming email chains and sharing ideas amongst each other online.

“At the end of the day, I do feel positive about Petaluma. It’s a great community and there’s been so much connection and sharing among people just in this first week,” Jeter said.

Despite the litany of businesses along Kentucky Street that chose to close completely, a small handful remained open Wednesday afternoon.

A few storefronts down from Jeter’s boutique, Sonoma Cutlery Manager Helen Porter propped open her front door and began wiping down the large display cases with Clorox wipes.

The business provides cooking supplies, knives and a knife-sharpening service Porter said restaurants rely on, but stopped short of calling it an “essential service” exempted from the shelter-in-place order.

“We’re open right now, but we’re considering switching to appointment-only pretty soon,” Porter said. “We’ll just work really hard to keep things disinfected, and not a lot of people crowd in here.”

During the course of the conversation, a man came in and began perusing the switchblade knives presented in the glass display case. He told Porter he was looking for a good groomsmen gift, inquiring how much a special order would cost him, and when she thought they would get their next shipment in.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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