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Ceres businesses struggling
• Shelter in place orders damaging small businesses, job
Fresh Fork empty
Normally busy at lunch, Fresh Fork and the rest of the shopping center at the southeast corner of Service and Mitchell roads looks like a ghost town these days. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Things were looking bleak inside Fresh Fork Thursday afternoon. Since opening over a year ago the eatery at Service and Mitchell roads is normally jammed lunchtime customers. In the wake of shelter in place orders designed to halt the transmission of the coronavirus, nobody but two employees and the owner were inside ready to accommodate any to-go food orders.

“Times are tough,” said owner Martin Matallanes.

The restaurant offers food on a takeout basis only during the statewide order. However since most of his customers are typically employees like Central Valley High School teachers on their lunch break and most workplaces are closed, the supportive customer base has evaporated.

Another business interest of Mantallanes and his wife Carmina, that of the Camp Transformation Center gym in north Modesto, is also suffering. He was told fitness centers and gyms may be forced to stay closed for two months.

The rest of the shopping center looks deserted like most across California. Yetz Boutique next door was closed and most of the businesses had paper signs noted the disruption in business. A sign on EXIT Realty a few doors noted that despite the office being closed real estate agents are working from home and available by phone.

Most restaurants remain open, catering to take-out orders only and shuttering dining areas. Other businesses which are staying open are auto and tire shops, some retailers like Walmart, grocery and liquor stores. Banks also remain open.

The effect on downtown Ceres is also noticeable with open parking. Jim Delhart, a fixture of Ceres for decades, has closed his furniture store. Signs taped to his glass doors end in an optimistic note: “We hope to open soon.”

Many businesses have found a way to adapt. Embrodiery Plus is closed temporarily for two weeks but taking email orders. Natalie Mercado’s Farmers Insurance office is assisting clients by phone, email or text. Pastas Pronto has offered a 40 percent discount on takeout orders in an effort to bring customers through their doors on Fourth Street.

Ceres Drugs remains open for obvious reasons but urges customers who have cough, fever, sore throat or problems breathing to remain at home and opt for home delivery.

Around the corner on Third Street, the Turlock Irrigation District office remains closed with a large sign referring customers to call their Turlock office to conduct business.

President Donald Trump is extending the voluntary national shutdown for a month as sickness and death from the coronavirus pandemic rise in the U.S.

The initial 15 days of social distancing urged by the federal government is expiring and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. But instead he decided to extend them.

Fourth Street businessman Jim Delhart taped these signs to his window of his furniture store during the temporary closure of “non-essential businesses.” The note offers the hope that he’ll reopen soon. - photo by Jeff Benziger