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LOS ANGELES (AP) – When Angeleno Wine Co. reopened the tasting room, co-owner Amy Luftig Viste ripped off seeing old friends reunited for the first time since the pandemic had closed so many businesses that it left major cities looking like ghost towns.
Even with limited capacity, lively conversations emerged from the tables placed between barrels of aged wine that echoed from the brick walls of the winery hidden in an industrial section on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles.
“It seemed to me that the winery had come back to life,” Luftig Viste said on Sunday, the day after it reopened after being closed for all but two weeks for the past 13 months.
The boom in small space is set to increase when capacity is allowed to double by as much as 50%, as Los Angeles and San Francisco pave the way for a wider reopening of California businesses.
The state’s signatory cities are likely to be the only major urban areas in the state that meet virus case thresholds for the less restrictive level, allowing for the reopening of indoor bars, a larger crowd to cheer on the Dodgers and Giants of the state. Major League Baseball in restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, gyms and other establishments.
It’s a remarkable change considering that California was the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the U.S. just a few months ago.
The two cities have weathered the pandemic differently, but they are emerging in the same place after a state shutdown in March 2020 in March 2020, which closed streets, shops and restaurants and dark office buildings.
Although San Francisco largely defeated the coronavirus by avoiding it, Los Angeles was almost hit by the winter wave. At its worst, more than 500 people a day died in California, and hospitals in the Los Angeles area could barely treat the overwhelming influx of patients.
San Francisco reached the less restrictive yellow level for a brief period in October, the only urban area that did so, before an alarming increase in cases forced it to withdraw. Los Angeles never left the most restrictive level until March.
Now, California has the lowest case rate in the country. Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people and has suffered a disproportionate number of the state’s 60,000 deaths, did not record a single COVID death. -19 Sunday or Monday.
As spring warms, highways become congested, workers return to offices, and people head to restaurants and breweries.
On Sunday, in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles, drivers circled the block looking for parking spaces. Diners filled the tables on the sidewalk of Wurstküche, eating sausages and drinking Belgian and German beer. A line of people waiting for a table at the Angel City Brewery spread across the street.
Chris Sammons said he felt a civic obligation to go out and support businesses.
“It almost seems like a duty to be committed to the city,” Sammons said. “We have to get back to LA alive.”
It was the first time his friend, Stephen Tyler, had come out, saying he was excited after being sheltered for so long and getting vaccinated.
“It’s good to be back in town, to be around people,” Tyler said. “Even that, I don’t mind being in line. It’s all new again.”
In San Francisco, business has picked up at Mixt, a popular place for lunch for salad lovers in the financial district. But it’s not at pre-pandemic levels when the lines spilled outdoors, said Leslie Silverglide, co-founder and CEO of the chain. He plans to open two more stores in the center in the coming weeks.
“It seems like people are coming back,” he said. “They’re happy to have lunch with their classmates again.”
Fear of detecting the virus caused a huge drop in the number of mass transit vehicles. Jason Alderman said he felt like a kid on the first day of school when he took a commuter train to San Francisco. He is working for the launch of Fast Online Payments, which reopened its headquarters as soon as San Francisco allowed in late March.
“Instead of feeling like an empty ghost town that people had quickly abandoned, it looked like there were green shoots of life,” he said. “I felt a spike in energy that was there before.”
When the blockade order arrived in March 2020, an estimated 137,500 workers at San Francisco companies including Google, Facebook and Uber disappeared overnight.
Moving vans removed homes from larger suburban homes and younger people simply packed their cars and left because they could work from anywhere. Residential rents plummeted, but are now rising.
The office vacancy rate in San Francisco is 18 percent compared to 10 percent the year before, said John Chang, senior vice president of Marcus & Millichap, a commercial real estate advisory and financing company. In Los Angeles, vacancies were 17.5% compared to 13.5% the previous year.
Perhaps most revealing is that only 14% of key cards are used to enter San Francisco offices, compared to 24% in Los Angeles. At the other end of the spectrum is Dallas, where the data show 41% of the cards used, reflecting the different approaches of the virus in the two states.
Chang said workers abruptly left San Francisco when the original stop order went into effect. He hopes the return will be more gradual.
Lisa Elder, a paralegal who has been working in her office since July, said that even with some restaurants and cafes recently reopened, the area is a shadow of its former state.
“Before COVID, this place was full, there would be a lot of people here on the street eating and now it’s quiet. It’s crazy,” he said.
At Angeleno Wine, Luftig Viste said most of its customers were vaccinated and everyone was happy to come out again.
“It’s an honor to be the place where people come to break the seal when we start dating again,” he said.
Har reported from San Francisco. Olga R. Rodriguez collaborated on this San Francisco report.