A year after the pandemic forced Chris and Amy Hillyard to temporarily close their two San Francisco Bay Area cafes, the news is suddenly good with COVID-19 cases dropping sharply and staff getting vaccinated.
But long-term, the future of the Oakland location remains unclear.
Bagpipes played outside Farley’s café in San Francisco as customers went inside to order their coffee drinks – the first time the café had allowed customers indoors in a year.
It's a happy note after a long struggle.
Farley’s café is one of two spots owned by Chris and Amy Hillyard that shut down for the first six weeks of the health crisis.
“Probably a month into the pandemic, I would definitely say our future was in doubt.
We just didn't know what was going to happen.” Reuters has been following the Hillyards since last March when they laid off their entire staff.
They've won six-figure paycheck protection loans to keep their staff on salary and got support from donors such as Golden State Warriors point Guard Steph Curry.
Now, as COVID-19 infections drop sharply in the area and as most his staff get vaccinated, customers are coming back, but so far it's more of a trickle than a wave.
"Here in San Francisco we're in a neighborhood, so sales were about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and then I'd say it's slowly been increasing a little bit each week as the (COVID) case counts have started to drop.
Unfortunately, in Oakland, we're about 25 to 30 percent on any given day of the pre-pandemic levels because we rely on a lot of the office workers at that location and they're just not there right now." Cafes are open, but many are still working from home.
Downtowns are still quiet.
Some economics professors are calling this a “donut” effect - once-vibrant city centers are hollowing out.
"You know, there's so many spots just like ours that rely on the office workers being there and I think we're gonna all have to just see what happens come fall when there's a little bit more normalcy to life." They plan to reopen indoor dining in late April and they are expanding elsewhere, opening a Farley's branded location at the San Francisco International Airport next month.