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By Collin Breaux | Email: cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com | Twitter: @collin_breaux

As San Juan Capistrano and the world continue to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, small local businesses in the Los Rios Historic District are cautiously and gradually reopening.

The quaint area is home to shops and businesses including Ramos House Cafe, The Cottage Gallery and Las Catrinas. The businesses are following safety guidelines issued during the health crisis. Only 10 people at a time are allowed in The Cottage Gallery—an art gallery—and hand sanitizer is available at most businesses.

Small businesses in the Los Rios Historic District have cautiously reopened, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Collin Breaux

Shop owners and employees are wearing masks, and they ask customers do the same. Retail businesses and certain other businesses have been allowed to reopen under state guidelines from Gov. Gavin Newsom, with safety modifications.

“We’re open now only Thursday through Sunday. Instead of seven days a week, we’re opening four days a week,” Cottage Gallery owner Dennie Hahn said. “You have a combination of staffing issues. All my staff, all but one, is over 65, and we’re trying to figure out what the business climate will be like.”

Hahn said she is happy with how many people are coming in, and how they’re friendly and excited to get outside after the world had temporarily closed. People want to support the Los Rios businesses, Hahn said.

“The late afternoons have been good for us,” Hahn said. “This past weekend, we had a lot of people coming from L.A. and San Diego. They had looked up things to do and found articles about how special Los Rios is. This is a nice, open, comfortable space.”

Hahn said making a decision that affects the health of artists who sell their art at The Cottage Gallery has been stressful, but taking precautions and establishing protocols made her realize she could safely do so.

Hahn said her business needs tourists, noting the area was on the verge of the Verdugo Street beautification completion and Inn at the Mission opening before the pandemic began. Verdugo Street has recently been renovated, and the Inn at the Mission is expected to open sometime in the late summer or early fall.

Las Catrinas, a boutique shop, is also currently open Thursday through Sunday for walk-in customers.

Las Catrinas owner Luis Santiago stands in his shop while wearing a mask. Small businesses in the Los Rios Historic District have cautiously reopened due to the COVID-19 pandemuc. Photo: Collin Breaux

“They (a lot of customers) came back the first week (the area was allowed to reopen), but this past week was quiet,” Las Catrinas owner Luis Santiago said on Thursday, June 4. “I opened yesterday, actually, for a little bit, but there was hardly anybody because restaurants were not open.”

Haideh Mehr, the manager at Las Catrinas, said most of their traffic comes from visitors and people at The Tea House on Los Rios, another business in the historic district.

“Once the restaurants were able to open, I think that’s bringing more people also, so they can dine and walk around and shop,” Mehr said. “We saw a good jump and response the first week. I think this week, with things being up in the air with protests and stuff, we’re seeing less people maybe coming down. But I think that’s going to pick up again.”

Santiago said people aren’t quite ready to come out, and may not even know Las Catrinas and other Los Rios businesses are open.  The number of people walking around downtown San Juan Capistrano varies due to numerous factors, including which businesses and attractions are open.

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