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Outdoor operations: La Jolla gyms, churches and hair salons move to open air

Stephanie Marquez styles a client's hair on the patio of The Boulevard salon in La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Many La Jolla businesses are taking to the great outdoors to adapt to new coronavirus-driven orders.

A week after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered select businesses to halt their indoor operations, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer signed an executive order July 20 expanding outdoor operations for area gyms, churches, barbershops and hair and nail salons into private parking lots.

For some physical fitness centers in La Jolla, making the move to outdoor exercise was seamless. Bird Rock Fit, a personal training studio on La Jolla Boulevard, took over its parking lot by taking equipment outside, including rowing machines, cardio equipment, kettle bells and weight balls.

“We would sometimes use the parking lot and surrounding streets during our training sessions, but it was just concrete. Now we have shade up and an indoor/outdoor use,” said manager Ethan Kopsch. He is in the process of adding turf to the entire lot to improve the experience.

“It was easy to implement the terms of the mayoral order,” he added. “We offer private training and we limit the amount of people through the doors and have one-on-one time with clients. Some trainers were apprehensive about coming back, and all trainers wear masks. … But the clients have been receptive to it, and we have music, so it feels like a good vibe there.”

Bird Rock Fit has turned its parking lot into an outdoor exercise space.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

But for some, the transition isn’t so smooth.

Brett Murphy, owner of La Jolla Sports Club on Fay Avenue, said that while there is an outdoor courtyard in the multi-tenant building where the club is located, taking classes outside requires approval from the landlord and some serious number crunching.

“I designed a courtyard-type workout space, but the design has to be approved,” Murphy said. “We are waiting to hear from the landlord and the insurance company whether we can do it or not. I also have to do the math and see how many people we can serve and whether it is fiscally wise to do it. It sounds great, but at the end of the day, if the numbers won’t make sense, we can’t do it.”

Murphy said that when businesses were instructed to modify operations to reduce gatherings, he reduced the amount of equipment in the gym by 40 percent. And figuring out how to orchestrate classes, and whether to use equipment or focus on personal training, remains to be seen.

Places of worship

The last two weeks of July, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Girard Avenue has been offering its Sunday service and one daily Mass outside. The protocol is the same as when services were allowed indoors, with pandemic-related restrictions: Parishioners are given hand sanitizer, and masks and social distancing are required.

The church uses the grounds of its accompanying Stella Maris Academy to space out chairs under tents during worship.

“It’s worked out quite well,” said the Rev. Patrick Mulcahy. “The center of our Catholic faith is receiving the Eucharist, the body of Christ. Having services online is wonderful, but you don’t get the Eucharist and we want people to have access to that, and with our facilities we were able to do that, so the decision was quite easy.”

The response, he said, has been “terrific,” and older members who were hesitant to attend when services were inside are now returning.

“I’ve seen people cry because they missed the Eucharist, and to be present and receive that has meant so much to them. I’m in awe of the faith I see in people,” Mulcahy said. “We throw around the word ‘essential’ in terms of jobs and efforts; for many people, their faith is essential to them.”

At the onset of the pandemic, several of La Jolla’s houses of worships modified their services to focus online. And while they can now legally operate outdoors, a few are opting not to.

The Rev. Mark Hargreaves of St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church on Prospect Street said the church held services “a couple of times” on the patio in July, but it will “take a break” in August and start services outside in September.

Pastor Paul Cunningham of La Jolla Presbyterian Church on Draper Avenue said, “At this point, we don’t have any plans for doing an outdoor worship service” and will continue online services.

Similarly, the Rev. Denise Jackson of Prince Chapel by the Sea AME Church on Cuvier Street said: “We are not presently holding any services outside. The physical doors of our church are also closed in keeping with sheltering in place and physical distancing mandates. But our spiritual doors are still open. All of our services are being held via Zoom.”

Hair salons

From the time businesses started closing in conformance with state guidelines, Stephanie Marquez, owner of The Boulevard hair salon on La Jolla Boulevard, began formulating a plan to work outside. With a patio immediately fronting her business, she knew she was in a position to operate her business safely, she said.

“As soon as [the city] said I could work on my patio, I was ready to go,” she said. She had purchased fans, pop-up tents, umbrellas and safety items such as hand sanitizer, an infrared thermometer and masks.

For now, the only services Marquez is offering are cutting and styling hair and selling products.

She has started selling masks with “LJ” emblazoned on them, with a portion of the proceeds going to La Jolla High School athletics.

Though she has adapted to changing circumstances, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been challenging.

“There is so much gray area right now,” she said. “I don’t know if I want to invest in anything else because we don’t know how things are going to change. People complained that they needed to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. But I have to tell myself — and them — that this is temporary and we will do what it takes to stay in business.” ◆