Chico businesses hit with triple-whammy: state restrictions, COVID-19 and fire smoke


Dylan Griffith

The past month businesses in Chico have faced the impacts of both the global pandemic and unhealthy air conditions caused by nearby wildfires. Photo taken Sept. 16, 2020.

Butte County Public Health held a meeting Thursday, Sept. 17 where some Chico business owners and other community members expressed outrage over state- and county-mandated restrictions. Recent fires, an uptick in COVID-19 deaths and strict reopening guidelines have increased tensions in the politically divided community.

“If you try to deprive a person of opening a business or peacefully gather you are breaking the law. Did you realize that?” said Penny Derosier, a pastor who spoke at the meeting.

Due to the fires around Chico and the impact on air quality, Butte County decided to temporarily allow restaurants to have indoor seating from Sept. 10-11. But state health officials quickly put a stop to this measure due to the county’s spike in COVID cases.

From Sept. 15-18, the health department announced seven new COVID-19 deaths. The county has now confirmed 2,688 COVID-19 cases, but citizens are still going out to support local business, though some find the COVID-9 restrictions exhausting.

“Wearing a mask and going out for dinner is really frustrating. We are sitting outside but right when we get to the table we are allowed to take off the mask,” said Jonathon Lowder, a Chico resident. “The last few months living up here and sitting at home makes any chance to get out of the house worth it even with the new protocols. But the economy up here is struggling and there are many mom and pop shops struggling, so I feel it is our duty to help in their time in need.” 

Downtown businesses have tolerated the restrictions and walk a fine line dealing with customers who refuse to wear masks. 

Tender Loving Coffee, a coffee roaster and cafe on Sixth Street, closed in March but now delivers coffee to customers every Friday. It also sells coffee drinks on Saturday mornings at the Chico Farmers Market. Owners Heath Dewey and Janell Bauer plan to reopen the cafe in early October.   

Bauer said the Chico community always comes together when it matters, and she asked for citizens to be “compassionate for small business owners” and “offer a little bit of grace” by following (COVID-19) regulations.

“Most people were really good about wearing a mask,” Bauer said, but the shop has received backlash from anti-maskers through phone calls and Facebook comments. 

Dylan Griffith can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @dylanr_griffith.