When William Velez, a Starbucks barista at the Vons supermarket on California Boulevard and Pasadena Avenue, reported to work Sunday morning, he came face to face with a sign of the times in these days of the coronavirus crisis.
A line of people had already gathered in the dampness outside the market, ahead of its 7 a.m. opening – and when the doors finally did open, those who had lined up raced “right for the toilet paper and paper towel aisle,” Velez told Pasadena Now around 1 p.m., long after that aisle had been stripped bare of its contents.
A hand-written sign affixed to the supermarket’s door also told customers, “Sorry, no plastic or paper bags” – which, one employee said, had run out on Saturday, the result of customers stocking up.
“It’s been calming down, but it’s been steady,” checkout clerk Aleiza Ponce said as she wiped down her station with a sanitizing spray. “We ran out of water. … People are buying toilet paper and paper towels.”
Meanwhile, Juan Manuel, a valet for Unified Parking who was stationed outside the Exchange Block Building on Colorado Boulevard, said that on a typical, pre-coronavirus Sunday he would have parked 50 cars between his 11 a.m. start time and 1:30 p.m., when he chatted with Pasadena Now. But Sunday, he had parked just 10 in that time span – and taken a proportionate hit in tip money.
Manuel said his business has been down “drastically” for about a week, since “around Monday or Tuesday.”
You got sights and stories like that all over town on Sunday as you walked around and popped into businesses and chatted with passersby, or drove along streets that usually bustle but which on this day were relatively quiet.
No, Pasadena was not a ghost town on this first Sunday after President Trump declared a national emergency, following similar moves in recent days by the city of Pasadena and by L.A. County. But the differences were distinctly noticeable.
At the Urbano Mexican Kitchen on California Boulevard, across from Huntington Hospital’s main entrance, only two customers were on hand, each dining alone and well-spaced apart. Staff outnumbered the customers by maybe 3-to-1, and the bar had no patrons.
“Usually people (meaning wait staff) are running around like they’ve had their heads chopped off,” said one employee, who preferred that his name not be published. “We’ve been hanging in there with take-outs, though. We have a lot of regulars, and we did have a large party earlier.”
Nicholas Baltas, assistant manager of the Italian Kitchen and Bakery on Colorado Boulevard, acknowledged that business has “dropped some” in recent days – he declined to be more specific – but also said, “We’re holding on as best we can.”
When Baltas spoke to Pasadena Now, about a dozen tables in his large restaurant were occupied, each with an empty table in between, as the restaurant has tried to maximize social distancing, among its other anti-coronavirus strategies.
“We’ve implemented new measures, spaced out the tables a bit, and we have hand sanitizing stations all over the place,” said Baltas – adding that those sanitizing stations had been added in just the last few days.
“More things will be implemented in the upcoming days,’’ Baltas said, “but I can’t talk about that right now. That will be released on our social media.”
Nearby, Mary Patel, manager of the Cheesecake Factory, said business has been “a lot slower in recent days.”
Pasadena police have not received calls for service involving fights or crowd control at any retail business in the city weekend arising from larger than usual crowds of shoppers, Lt William Grisafe said.
Grisafe said the Department has increased patrolling of markets and other large shopping venues to make sure there is a noticeable law enforcement presence.
Those restaurant workers made their comments shortly before news broke that Gov. Gavin Newsom had ordered all bars in the state to close temporarily, directed restaurants to reduce their capacities by half and required that all state residents older than 65 self-quarantine in their homes. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti quickly followed with an announcement saying that all bars in the city would be closing.
“The Pasadena Police Department and Police Chief John Perez would like to ensure the public that policing functions are continuing and frontline officers are doing an incredible job in providing police services, responding to 911 emergencies and handling the volume of calls for service. Additionally, officers will investigate and enforce any violations of the law regarding price gouging.”
Some businesses in Pasadena were ahead of the curve in the closure department, such as the Apple Store and Urban Outfitters on Colorado Boulevard.
At the Apple Store, the doors were open but the entrance was roped off, and visitors were greeted with a sign that read, “Our retail stores are closed until March 27.”
Apple’s Pasadena manager, who declined to give his name, stood near the entrance while a handful of employees milled around inside, in darkness. Those employees were on hand, the manager said, because, “We’re making sure people can pick up their computers if they were in for repair.”
The Apple Store closure is a company-wide directive, not just in Pasadena, the manager said.
Down the street and across Colorado Boulevard, at Urban Outfitters, potential customers were turned away by a yellow sign at the door that read, “For the safety and precaution of the community, all Urban Outfitters stores will be closed until further notice.”
Directly across the street from Urban Outfitters, the Banana Republic store remained open, but with reduced hours, according to the manager, who identified himself only as “Eric.”
Eric reported that “because they’re (Urban Outfitters) closed, we’re getting some of their traffic,” and that business has been “pretty good, actually except for the rain.”
Meanwhile, over the Vons on California Boulevard, Maria Gonzalez, who works in the bakery department, said, “people just don’t stop showing up.”
“I’m out of bread, and we won’t get another load until Tuesday,” she said – although some display racks in the bakery area did still contain some loaves of French bread. Gonzalez said, in particular, brand-labeled breads and specialties such as gluten free breads were gone.
In the parking lot outside the store, one couple who declined to give their names was loading groceries into the trunk of their car – directly from the cart and into the trunk, since there were no plastic or paper bags left in the store.
A visitor noticed a big package of paper towels in the couple’s trunk and pointed out that they had gotten lucky.
“We got the paper towels from Costco,” the man said. “We had to go early in the morning.”