Closing the doors in Covid’s wake

David Briggs
Chef Christian Caiazzo is closing Osteria Stellina, ahead of a deepening economic crisis. Two doors down, on Point Reyes Station's main drag, John Hyde is shutting Flower Power.   

Five months have passed since the novel coronavirus upended life in West Marin, and some local businesses are no longer able to hold on. New regulations responding to the pandemic have caused significant financial strain, and for some business owners, safety concerns are paramount. This week, the Light spoke with two neighboring business owners in Point Reyes Station who are closing their doors.

Osteria Stellina

Running a restaurant supplied by local, organic producers is not easy, but Christian Caiazzo was cut out for the task. For 12 years, he helmed Osteria Stellina in the heart of Point Reyes Station, showcasing the finest goods from Marin’s ranchers, cheesemakers, winemakers, vegetable farmers and fishermen. The restaurant’s seasonal menu earned immediate critical acclaim. Yet Christian said the premium he paid for food and other practices, like providing benefits and keeping employees on through the winter, led to tight margins. The pandemic presented an entirely new hardship. When the first shelter order was announced in March, the restaurant closed for four days, and then re-opened for takeout. When allowed, outdoor tables were set up outside. Christian received federal assistance through the paycheck protection program, and around 22 of his 30 staffers, the majority of whom live locally, were able to keep working. His two children, aged 13 and 17, and his wife have all pitched in to make up the difference. After months of perseverance, the decision to close was “devastating,” Christian said. “We are actually doing pretty well right now with the outdoor tables, and people have responded well to takeout. There seems to be even more of a need in the community than usual,” he said. Yet, he explained, “This is what I see as the beginning on a downward bell curve, and I need to get out early on that downward slope because that bottom is coming. I see further closure [orders] in the fall and winter, which is already our slow season. It doesn’t make sense. We don’t have reserves like we normally would from the summer.” He said the hardest part of closing is the strong sense of responsibility he feels to the community, including the producers, customers and the staff he considers family. Christian, who resides in Petaluma, will continue to run Toby’s Coffee Bar, which he also owns. But he is not making his renowned grilled cheese this year at the Point Reyes Farmers Market, though he hopes to do so next year, and his catering business has shuttered for the time being. When asked about his next steps, he said he might explore opening a new, entirely to-go restaurant in Petaluma, where there is heavier traffic. For now, Stellina will be open every day for outdoor dining and takeout through August, serving oysters, salads, grilled cheese sandwiches, fish, pastas, pizzas and a selection of local wines, beer, cider and mead.

Flower Power

John Hyde, the proprietor of Flower Power for the past 18 years, will close his doors in mid-August after selling off his inventory. John, who is 78 and took up the shop after a long career in advertising, made the decision to shut down as soon as the shelter order was released. “It was a combination of two things,” he said. “I thought the pandemic was going to seriously infringe on my business. And, two, my age: No way did I want to put up with basically risking my life to continue doing business. My personal feeling was that this was very serious, and that has not changed.” John lives in San Rafael now but previously lived in Muir Beach and had fallen in love with Marin’s coast; in 2003, he bought Flower Power, a gift and gardening shop that had been open since 1996, and revamped it. He rented the space from the late Richard Kirschman, who had purchased the building, which had a long history as a bank, in the 1970s; Mr. Kirschman’s widow, Doris Ober, and two other partners remain the building’s owners. Over the years, John has commuted to Point Reyes Station, working five days a week with the help of two part-time employees. Florist Mary Tillbury supplied the store weekly with a vibrant selection of freshly cut flowers that were the centerpiece of the store. John reopened this month to sell what remains: furniture, garden statuary and a whole manner of gifts, including cards, clothing and tabletop items like bowls, vases and candle holders. He will be open from Thursdays through Sundays until he has sold out, or until mid-August. When asked about the number of businesses closing in Point Reyes Station, John was pragmatic. “Point Reyes is a very special place, and it will be okay in the long term,” he said. “I think most [business owners] will stick it out.” John has no plans to retire, and said that even the word scares him. “I will do something. It won’t be retail. It will be something new again,” he said, adding that political consulting was at the top of his list. (He shared a fun fact about his past: He graduated from James Madison High School in 1959 in the same class as Bernie Sanders.) The current political climate is compelling him to action. “Because I was in advertising all those years, I do have a talent in that direction, in marketing and consulting,” he said. “With the turn toward fascism in our country, I feel really pulled toward doing what I can to work against that.”