The downtown streets of Los Olivos, usually bustling with visitors in search of the perfect pour, are eerily quiet these days.
Husband-wife team Andrew and Erin Scherer, owners of Los Olivos boutique wine and beer tasting room Community Craft, say the usual stream of local customers and tourists — "that helped keep the lights on" — came to a full stop after restaurants, bars, brewpubs and wineries were ordered to close to public foot traffic because of COVID-19.
“We were having such an amazing eight months before this all happened,” Erin said of their fledgling business, which the pair launched in 2017 out of their love of wine and community. “Now we’re fighting to pay our rent and just trying to stay afloat.”
In response to the economic jolt dealt to businesses such as the Scherers', the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stepped in and rolled out a series of regulatory relief notices in an effort to provide some reprieve.
ABC Public Information Officer John Carr said that although the department has relaxed regulations during disasters such as fires, earthquakes, mudslides and floods in the past, they do not recall a time when they have had to disseminate a statewide Notice of Regulatory Relief on such a grand scale.
“... There are over 93,000 ABC licensed businesses that employ over a million individuals, and the pandemic has created severe economic stress. Many people have filed for unemployment,” Carr said. “The Notice of Regulatory Relief, the Second Notice of Regulatory Relief, and the Temporary Fee Relief are all designed to ease economic stress and help businesses through this pandemic.”
Of the 13 ABC regulations that have been loosened over the last six weeks, the Scherers, like many other local licensees trying to survive, have adopted off-site services like curbside pick-up and home delivery, which can take them as far out as Santa Maria or Lompoc.
“Every sale, whether it’s one beer, we’ll deliver it,” Erin said, describing their recent delivery of a mixed case of beer and wine to a new Lompoc-based customer. “Every sale matters.”
Since the shutdown, the couple’s 700-square-foot tasting room stocked with small production wine labels like Penville, Luna Hart, Sandhi and Sea Smoke, as well as draught and bottled beers, has become more of a staging area for organizing daily deliveries than a place of community gathering.
Local retailers are feeling the pinch three weeks after the coronavirus prompted a stay at home order, the public to adhere to social distancing guidelines and non-essential businesses to close their doors. But many businesses have risen to the occasion, and are taking a creative turn by leveraging the power of social media.
Andrew, a certified sommelier and previous director of wine at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe, explained that since their business model was built on the person-to-person experience — more like a local bar — they have had to work harder to establish a new lifeline, not unlike some area peers who work from a predominately shipping business model and have a broader client base.
“The personal touch is important to us,” Andrew said, adding that they have adjusted their prices to help customers out at this time, while still honoring the local winemakers they represent. “We’ll stop what we’re doing to make a delivery. Whatever is convenient for [customers].”
Despite having to maintain a workable schedule to accommodate their active 2-year-old, Erin believes their commitment to excellent customer service is what will make their climb back to normalcy successful.
“We just don’t say no,” she said, referencing their no-minimum-purchase delivery option.
Valley Tool & Truck Rental, Hitching Post 2 and Allstate Insurance are all offering a helping hand to the local community.
Recounting the weeks that led them to a slow-growing delivery business, Andrew acknowledges that maintaining his sanity hasn't been easy.
"From high energy, operating at peak level, to suddenly everything stopping ..." he said. "I'm lucky to have a wife that helps keep morale up and is a never-say-die kind of person."
Following the postponement of the 14th annual Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon due to social distancing restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, event spokesman Dan Cruz recently announced that a new date has been set.
Merchants and concerned citizens gathered at Solvang Park on Friday afternoon, to rally for the reopening of the local economy.
“It was to be a relaxed project growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with a variety of vegetables and fruits, including a grove of olive trees.”
Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News.
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