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Editorial: Show the Castro some love

by BAR Editorial Board

Clockwise from top right, Mark Bowen, drag host Glamorous Mrs. Gaysel, and Vinny Pontes take a selfie outside the Midnight Sun; Fernando Alvaro enjoys a meal at Castro Tarts; Desmond Perrotto and Dan Lefler eat at the Midnight Sun; as does Omar Carmical and Michael Christopher, who were served by Bowen. Photos: Steven Underhill
Clockwise from top right, Mark Bowen, drag host Glamorous Mrs. Gaysel, and Vinny Pontes take a selfie outside the Midnight Sun; Fernando Alvaro enjoys a meal at Castro Tarts; Desmond Perrotto and Dan Lefler eat at the Midnight Sun; as does Omar Carmical and Michael Christopher, who were served by Bowen. Photos: Steven Underhill  

It's been a stark four months of mostly sheltering in place for the city — and the rest of the Bay Area — but there are signs that the Castro is coming back to life. Outdoor dining has resumed, while the neighborhood's restaurants and bars (which can be open for outside service if they serve food) are trying mightily to stage a comeback. Although, amid the uptick in COVID-19 cases, the situation could be reversed at any moment. State and local officials have been sowing confusion with constantly changing orders; some businesses are allowed to open one day and ordered closed the next. Everyone wants businesses open as quickly as possible — but that can only happen if conditions are safe for workers and patrons.

One of the key safety precautions, of course, is that everyone should wear a mask. During photographer Steven Underhill's recent visit to the Castro, everyone in his photos was wearing a face covering, from servers to hosts to customers — a promising sign of appropriate and considerate behavior that can help to contain the virus. While it has been known for some time that wearing a mask can prevent you from spreading the novel coronavirus droplets, it was reported this week that there's evidence that the mask can also protect you from others. The growing consensus is that for general safety everyone should don a face covering when outside of their own home.

Castro eateries are conforming to a viable plan for returning to some semblance of normalcy. Tables are spaced apart to meet physical distancing requirements, although reducing the amount of overall seating. Only cautious behavior and practices can provide safe environments in which businesses and patrons can operate, which in time can help reduce and beat the spread of the virus. No one wants to return to severe shelter-in-place orders, so we must do all we can to reduce infection rates.

The Shared Spaces program, which would allow restaurants to serve more diners outdoors, is expected to start soon in the Castro. According to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman's office, 18th Street between Hartford and Castro streets, and 18th Street from Castro to Collingwood streets, will be closed to vehicular traffic and become temporary pedestrian zones from 1 to 10 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. The program is expected to run until December 31. The New York Times recently explored a similar program there where eateries became creative in delineating the new dining areas. In the Castro, Hi Tops has already taken the lead by building a protected seating area across several parking spaces in front of the gay sports pub.

Local businesses need support now and must be saved for the greater health of our neighborhoods. The fragility of the Castro should concern us all and it can only rebound with a conscious effort to revitalize its businesses. Stores like Cliff's Variety were never shuttered, and others have reopened for in-person visits or curbside pickup. So plan to visit the Castro for shopping and dining — but do it safely, to protect yourself, others and our community.

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