Laguna Beach businesses, festivals sprint after governor says economy will fully reopen June 15

The Sawdust Art Festival is tentatively planning an opening day on July 2 for its summer season following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that he plans to fully reopen the economy on June 15.Photo by Mitch Ridder.

Laguna Beach businesses and nonprofits were elated to hear Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Tuesday that he plans to fully reopen the state’s economy on June 15 as long as COVID-19 cases and vaccinations continue on their current paths.

After more than a year of various stages of closures and modified operations, the news provided many business owners with a much-need opportunity to exhale and seriously plan for a post-coronavirus economy.

“We’re all looking forward to getting the economy fully reopened and it certainly looks like everything is trending in the right direction for that,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “It will have been 14 months since the original shutdown and a really difficult time for lots of businesses and working people so it’s going to be great to get back to more of a normal economy again.”

With summer fast approaching, many community members’ attention is turning back to the future of the art festivals.

The Sawdust Art Festival’s leadership is excited by the real opportunity created by lifting capacity and social distancing restrictions, said Monica Prado, president of the Sawdust Board of Directors. Sawdust is aiming for a July 2 opening day for its summer season but details about hours and guest capacity still need to be finalized, Prado said Wednesday.

“We also understand that some modifications will still be necessary and are waiting for clarification from the City,” Prado said. “[Three] weeks ago we submitted a plan for approval, but yesterday’s announcement is a game changer.”

A Festival of Arts spokesperson wrote in an email Wednesday that the nonprofit “will have more to share soon” after the 2020 Fine Art Show and Pageant of the Masters was canceled, a first for the organization since World War II.

“Both the Sawdust and the Festival have been talking with city staff about the right protocols,” Whalen said. “It will be great to have the art festivals back and operating again. It will feel like a much more normal summer.”

Although some indoor entertainment venues have already restarted some in-person shows, there won’t be an immediate restart of shows at Laguna Playhouse. However, playhouse staffers are continuing to offer a menu of virtual performances to the public.

“We’re really excited to see the movement toward reopening and are happy that progress is being made in the fight against COVID-19,”  Laguna Playhouse Executive Director Ellen Richard said in a prepared statement. “We are committed to returning to live theatre as soon as it is possible for us to do so safely. We look forward to welcoming back our subscribers, donors and audience members who have been so supportive to us during this closing and will announce our opening plans in the near future.”

Laguna Beach hotels are seeing travel reservation activity increase for both the spring and summer months, Visit Laguna Beach CEO Ashley Johnson wrote in an email.

“We at Visit Laguna Beach understand the importance of travel, as well as the positive economic impact it has for our town, and though we will fully reopen, we will continue to do our part in educating our overnight guests on safe and responsible ways to visit us, ensuring that the health and safety of our community is first and foremost,” she said.

Johnson is encouraging community members to continue supporting local businesses that have been suffering amid COVID-19 closures.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone, to say the least, so I’m excited to be moving beyond the state’s tier system come mid-June,” Johnson said.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach was counting on things going “back to normal” before this summer, general manager Kurt Bjorkman said.

“Most of our 2020 wedding shifted this year – so June 15 is critically important for us to be able to accommodate our important [group] clients like weddings, corporate groups and social events,” Bjorkman wrote in an email.

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