Closing shop in Covid's wake

David Briggs
Dentist Craig Crispin closed his Point Reyes Station office amid unprecedented challenges for the industry. Concerned for the health of their elderly customers, Stephanie Matthews and Sam Hinckley, partners at First Valley Inverness, are permanently closing this month. In Bolinas, aesthetician Amanda Mann had to give up her salon space, though her clients are calling.  

Five months have passed since the novel coronavirus upended life in West Marin, and some local businesses are now shutting down as a result of public safety concerns and regulations. The Light spoke with a dentist who has operated in Point Reyes Station for over 30 years, two business partners who set out to revive downtown Inverness, and an aesthetician in Bolinas, who are all closing their doors. 

Dr. Craig Crispin, DDS

Until his recent closure, Dr. Craig Crispin had continued to see patients for emergencies in his 34-year-old, two-seat dental practice in Point Reyes Station, despite his own underlying health conditions and the fact that Covid-19 puts dentists at an extremely high risk. Among the greatest challenges to the field is that working in patients’ mouths releases aerosols, droplets of water, saliva, blood and other microorganisms that persist in the air. Nevertheless, Dr. Crispin said he and his one permanent staffer went to great lengths to adopt the recommended precautions so they could respond to broken teeth and other crises. At the end of June, they were allowed to resume routine care, though they consolidated work into three days a week considering diminished demand. (He said patients often responded to routine reminders for a check-up with, “Yes, but call me back in December.”) After getting some additional help, Dr. Crispin, 71, has taken a back seat for the past couple months due to his health; last year, he was diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma, which he said “is not going to kill me in the short run, but getting sick might.” In February, right before the pandemic hit, he put his practice on the market, deciding it was time to retire. A buyer who was supposed to close the deal in July pulled out. “He got cold feet,” said Dr. Crispin, who was compelled into his contingency plan: Two weeks ago, he transferred his equipment and roughly 300 active charts to a San Anselmo office where he himself receives care. Dr. Crispin is used to doing what it takes to keep the operation afloat. In 1986, he took out a Small Business Administration loan to buy the dental office, and when the economy tanked in 2007, he took on additional part-time work, commuting to Solano County to provide dental care at the state prison. But the challenges facing dentistry now are unprecedented, he said. “Dentistry has been turned upside down: It will never be the same for me,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard to make a living, considering that overhead is up and reimbursement from insurance is not going up. I’m going to retire, but what about for the younger dentists?” He believes that only bigger offices have a chance of surviving. “I’m just a two-chair office: I’m a dinosaur. If you have four or five chairs going, maybe you can absorb all of that and make up for it in volume. But it’s going to be a real roller coaster for practices as far as I can see until this thing really calms down, until we get a vaccine.”

First Valley Inverness

In February 2018, Stephanie Matthews and Sam Hinckley began refurbishing Inverness’s longtime Shaker furniture shop, which had lain dormant for years. They had big dreams: The Shaker pieces that remained would be restored and sold, local artists would have a new space to show their work, and residents would enjoy a place to gather over coffee. They labored for months before opening the doors to First Valley Inverness, setting back the clock on the original shop that Mr. Hinckley’s extended family had operated for decades. But 2020 brought unforeseen challenges just as the summer tourist season came into view. “We closed with the first shelter order, but we would’ve closed anyway. Our customer base is local and older, and I wouldn’t have wanted to expose them,” Ms. Matthews said. “I knew this was inevitable the second the pandemic started; the writing was on the wall. It was our busiest season and what holds us through the winter.” Ms. Matthews, who is from Point Reyes Station and now lives with her family in Inverness, where her husband grew up, laments the decision to shut down. “The town of Inverness doesn’t have another daily place where people can connect besides maybe the post office, and I think it can be isolating,” she said. “This is an older community where a lot of people have lost their spouse, and I worry a lot about people in this situation.” First Valley is now open Saturdays and Sundays through August in order to sell off the remaining inventory. Ms. Matthews said that in addition to offering wall space for shows by local painters and photographers, she regularly featured the work of potters, knitters and glass blowers, and all manner of vintage finds. One-of-a-kind, handcrafted items don’t make for a good online business, she said, so she didn’t consider that as an alternative. The coffee wasn’t intended as a money-maker but rather to provide an excuse for people to stop by and spend time, and it’s no longer being offered considering the current strain on socializing. With years in the restaurant business, she said that could lie in her future, though most likely over the hill. Mr. Hinckley, a retired movie editor whose cousin started the Shaker shop and taught him the trade, said he will continue to restore furniture on the side, meeting whatever demand there might be. “I’ll just have to focus on the things I can do while sheltering,” he said. “I’ll miss everybody. This was so fun.”

Amanda Ross Skin Care

Amanda Mann, an aesthetician and the proprietor of a downtown Bolinas business since 2016, let go of her indoor space after months of regulators waffling over whether and how to reopen personal services. As of late July, only hairdressers are allowed in Marin, and only outdoors. At the end of June, Ms. Mann, an Oakland native who moved to Bolinas to raise her children, stopped renting the day spa, where she and her six employees and three others offered skincare, massage therapy, haircuts and acupuncture. Ms. Mann said her customers have made clear that they remain interested in her services. “People are texting and calling me and emailing me, ‘When can I get a facial?’ They say they will get a test, and that they will only breathe out of their nose.” She continued, “For some people, that was the only time they ever got touched, they ever got that kind of healing.” Ms. Mann, who received federal assistance to continue her business, is still selling a host of skincare products online; she produces them locally at a lab in Marin and sells them at a variety of local stores, including the Palace Market and Good Earth. She makes her own cleansers, sanitizers, masks, creams, serums, oils, sunscreens and makeup with organic ingredients and without GMOs, parabens, synthetic scents or dyes. “I’m so grateful to have my product line, and I’m focusing on promoting them online: That’s a whole new industry to break through, considering that before my customers were the clients I already had,” she said. As far as resuming her practice outdoors once Marin allows it, she said she is looking into new locations should that become an option. “I would say I’m nervous,” she admitted. “There is still so much we don’t know about asymptomatic carriers, and I have older parents that I’m spending time with. I try to be as safe as I can.” Her father, a dentist, gave her guidance on best practices. To give a facial, she said, she wouldn’t hesitate to wear a N-95, a cloth mask and a face shield all at once. “The industry is going to have to change,” she said. “I think now I’m going to have to educate people on how to do their own facials at home.”