Forest Grove businesses reopen under revised COVID guidelines
Roughly three months after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a two-week "pause" to slow the spread of COVID-19, local businesses are again opening their doors to customers.
Last Tuesday, Feb. 9, Brown announced that 10 counties — including Washington County — had moved out of the "extreme risk" category, meaning restaurants can have limited indoor dining, gyms can increase admittance, long-term care facilities can allow in-person visits, and businesses such as Forest Grove Dance Arts can move back from the virtual world, and into their studio that has been without students since last November.
"We're thrilled," said Patty Petersen, the studio's artistic director.
On Monday, Feb. 15, students filtered into the dance studio, each with a mask and fresh from a temperature check as they entered one-by-one.
Forest Grove Dance Arts has two 1,400-square-foot rooms, which are cleaned between classes. Each of these large rooms has been limited to a capacity of 15, with the latest social distancing regulations in mind. That allows for two simultaneous classes of 10 students, plus room for instructors and assistants if need be.
Each room remains equipped with a sizable television to allow for virtual students who either aren't yet ready to return or are limited due to vulnerable home situations.
"Some don't want to venture out yet, maybe don't want to wear masks, or they don't want to end up going back on Zoom," Petersen said. "They're worried about that back and forth, so they're just choosing not to do anything right now."
The Zoom option also allows for parents to monitor their child's progress from home, or simply appreciate the viewing experience on their phone from the parking lot as they await the finish of class.
"It's great for the parents," Petersen said. "It's not just the kids who've missed participating, but also the parents who haven't gotten to watch their kids."
The state's new regulations also green-lit the studio's "Nutcracker" production, which was waylaid over the holidays due to indoor restrictions. The annual musical is now scheduled for Feb. 26-28, when the students will record the production at the Forest Grove studio and later distribute it online.
"We said we were going to do it," Petersen said. "The kids are really excited."
Equally excited are local area bowlers, who will again be given the opportunity to bowl after having just two weeks over the last 10 months to do so.
Rainbow Lanes in Forest Grove will open its doors Friday, Feb. 19, and while excited, alley owner Allyn Clark said it's not just as easy as opening the doors after such a prolonged layover.
"We're talking about mechanical machines that have basically been idle for four months," Clark said. "We have to make sure everything is running properly to make sure that when people come in, they'll be able to bowl and not have any issues, and have a good time."
Bowling alleys have faced the brunt of pandemic restrictions, remaining closed throughout the summer and early fall despite eased guidelines for most everything else. Clark — who also owns Four Seasons Bowling Alley in Hillsboro — fought hard this past fall to get opened in November, only to have his doors closed two weeks later by the state's so-called pause as COVID-19 case counts spiked.
It's that volatility that is Clark's biggest concern this time around, along with the ability to properly interpret the state's rules.
"The rules and regulations are somewhat vague," he said. "I've talked to both the liquor and the lottery (organizations), and it's concerning that I get different answers from each.
"It's my job to make sure I'm doing the right thing, but when it's not clear what the 'right thing' is, it makes it pretty difficult."
Rainbow Lanes is planning to be open around the weekends, likely Friday through Monday. Clark said the alley will have limited food and beverage available, and staff will be cleaning feverishly to maintain the safest environment possible.
Rainbow Lanes is bringing half of its employees back, will be again offering leagues, and has heard from both regular and sporadic customers already who are excited to get back to bowling.
Four Seasons in Hillsboro won't yet be opening. Clark said that facility's reopening is complicated by the adjoining restaurant and bar, which has yet to open its doors. Because the two are technically separate establishments, the bowling alley can't offer food and drink to customers without Sports Look being open.
Clark said the experience of last summer taught him it doesn't make sense to open a restaurant at 25% capacity, so he's waiting for the state's next stage of opening before bringing diners back into Sports Look.
"We've got a new floor and new tables, and a bunch of new stuff in there," Clark said. "We're excited to open it, but it just doesn't make sense yet."
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