On Friday afternoon in Skagit County, restaurants hosted sit-down diners, barbers offered haircuts, and many retail stores opened to customers — all for the first time in more than two months.
The county was approved Friday morning to move to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's four-phase Safe Start plan, which allows some businesses to reopen under COVID-19 safety restrictions.
At lunchtime at Valley Shine Distillery in Mount Vernon, friends Stephanie Brink of Camano Island and Kim Hildenbrand of Mount Vernon were the restaurant's first two diners.
"This is my favorite place in the world," Brink said.
She said she felt comfortable dining inside the mostly empty restaurant, but would be more cautious if it became crowded.
Under Phase 2, restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing.
Valley Shine Distillery bartender Xander Eutsler said the restaurant is using whiskey barrels as barriers to separate tables, and plans to display large chalkboard menus, instead of passing out individual menus.
Eutsler said it's been a long buildup to reopening.
"We've been toiling and thinking about it for the last few months," he said.
Down the street, Skagit Running Company had seen about 20 customers in the first four hours since reopening, said sales associate Sarah Barratt.
"People need shoes," she said. "They've been sitting at home, have foot problems, and are getting back to work. A lot of people have commented on how much exercise they're doing now."
Personal services, such as hair and nail salons and barbershops, were also allowed to reopen in Phase 2.
On Track Tanning in Sedro-Woolley had seen about five customers by Friday afternoon, said tanning consultant Kacie Rexroth.
She said the salon already practices a high level of sanitation, and will do more frequent cleaning of surfaces such as doorknobs and counters.
Roxane Marihugh of Sedro-Woolley came into the salon for her first tanning appointment in several months.
"I've been missing my tanning," she said. "It makes me feel better."
Not all businesses reopened right away.
Sisters Kim Mellich and Erin Balam, owners of Joy's Bakery & Cafe in Sedro-Woolley, were busy Friday making improvements to their bakery, including a new coat of paint to the building's exterior.
Mellich said the plan is to wait a few weeks before reopening to see how it goes for other restaurants. She worried about getting too much business too soon after being closed for several months.
Concerns lingered for some businesses about operating long term at reduced capacity. At the Lunchbox Diner in Mount Vernon, owner Steve Sewell said the restaurant needed to reach at least 85% capacity to pay the bills.
"If we don't get up to full sales, a lot of us are going to close back down," he said.
Sewell said Phase 2 rules restrict him from opening up bar seating in his diner, further reducing capacity. He said the restaurant started an outdoor barbecue on Fridays as one way to increase sales.