Businesses rejoice as Malheur County shifts toward normal

Danny Moore, owner of the Plaza Barber Shop, prepares to cut Jax Hale’s hair Friday morning in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Danny Moore scanned the parking lot.

There in the early Friday morning sunlight he saw a line of big Ford and Chevy trucks where men of various ages sat.

“This is going to be a crazy day,” said Moore.

Moore – his face hidden behind his mask, gloves on his hands – then turned and went back to the man sitting in the barber chair and began to cut his hair.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that Malheur County could move to reopen but Friday morning the response by residents was mixed. Barbershops in Ontario were busy but other formerly popular places – such as the Plaza Inn Restaurant – were not.

Moore’s Plaza Barbershop already had more appointments for Friday than he could possibly complete. The volume is so high that he plans to remain open seven days a week.

Moore said people began lining up for their appointments at 7 a.m.

Across town, Kristie Link, owner of the Stockmans Barbershop, said she began to cut hair at 7:30 a.m. By noon she had done 27 haircuts.

She, too, plans to be open all week for the foreseeable future.

She said her barber and hair salon friends in Fruitland and Boise are booked out until July.

While there is a demand, it isn’t business as usual for either Link or Moore because the guidelines for reopening mean they must wear masks and gloves, appointments are needed and the number of customers is limited.

 “It’s been kind of slow,” said Plaza Inn Restaurant owner Jason Jungling.

Jungling said Friday morning he was worried that, after being shut down for three weeks, customer habits may have changed.

“We hope if they have, they are not permanent,” he said.

Jolts and Juice Company, a coffee house in Ontario, was not completely open Friday but still offering curbside service. Joe Heinz, operations manager for the coffee business, said the shop will open up Monday.

“We are excited to see the community back in here,” said Heinz.

Monday, Kelsi Marvin, a barista at Jolts and Juice, said customer traffic was slow but steady.

“It is going pretty good,” said Marvin.

At Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits in Nyssa, the tabletops lacked their usual salt and pepper shakers. Silverware and bottles of ketchup and mustard were cleared off to prevent contamination.

Tables were removed to maintain space between diners. Every other booth was closed. And the salad bar – banned as per regulations – is now being used to store small packets of jam and other condiments.

“I’ve lost 35% of my seating,” said owner Bob Holmes as he looked across the space, now roomier after he removed two dozen chairs.

In the bar, all the stools were taken out and lottery machines were stationed six feet apart. About 50 seats in the dining and bar area became casualties of the social distancing guidelines.

“It’s going to be tough,” Holmes said.

But he is thrilled, he said, and grateful, that he gets to reopen the restaurant that’s been in Nyssa since 2007. Business kicked off slowly Friday morning, but Holmes expects word of mouth will take care of that.

Previously open until 2:30 a.m., Holmes now has to close his doors at 10 p.m. About 60% of his business previously came in from 10 p.m. to 2 in the morning.

“We’re going to fight the battle,” Holmes said. “But it’s going to be years before we recover.”

Down the street from Holmes, Thunderegg Coffee Company blocked off tables, offering staggered seating to dine-in customers. The coffee shop remained open these past two months but with fewer hours and employees.

The move away from indoor seating didn’t make too big an impact on the coffee shop, said owner Chris Haun. Customers are used to the grab-and-go burritos Haun sells and the to-go coffee.

“But lunches took a hit,” Haun acknowledged.

The biggest boon from the reopening comes from the lottery machines at the back of the business. Around five customers are now allowed inside as long as they sit one to every machine.

Business was quiet Friday morning though one regular came in to celebrate by sitting down at a booth and ordering his favorite meal from the coffeeshop.

“Hopefully we’ll be back full tilt next week,” Haun said.

For hairdressers the reopening was a relief.

At Salon Salon in Ontario, owner Stephen Crow received more than 500 calls during the shutdown. His regulars are back now, but each hairdresser can only take on one client at a time. The usual chatter that filled the place before the shutdown is gone now that customers must wait their turn outside.

“It’s a completely different environment,” Crow said. “But they’re just grateful to get their hair done.”

In Nyssa, Heidy Muñoz is also happy to reopen. Her business, Gloria’s Hidden Beauty Salon, is her sole source of income. She’s been away for two months. She said she was getting so many messages from clients during the shutdown that she eventually had to switch off her notifications.

Muñoz welcomed back her regulars Friday. She’s already booked through the rest of the month and the beginning of the next one.

Wearing a custom-made cheetah print facemask, Muñoz is back to cutting hair. This time, her customers are also wearing masks and gloves.

She said there’s a silver lining to regulations. The focus on cleanliness reinforces the training that hairdressers undergo before they can set up shop.

For her, the new rules aren’t too burdensome, she said. She always takes one appointment at a time inside her small salon.

She’s just happy to be back in business.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,’ Muñoz said as she snipped away.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].


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