Russell Brand, owner of Oregon Tattoo Company, tattoos Chynalyn Cantere during the first phase of Salem's reopening on Friday, May 22. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Your support matters.  A monthly subscription to Salem Reporter starts at $5. Go HERE. 

Court Street Dairy Lunch opened up at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Forty-five minutes later, the downtown Salem restaurant had its first customer in nearly two months who ordered a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries.

Marlene Blanchard, the restaurant’s owner, said that those 45 minutes was exciting.

After weeks of cleaning and planning, the nearly 100-year-old restaurant finally welcomed back customers after a state order closed restaurants, bars and other services in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Customers trickled in all morning at the restaurant, located at 347 Court St. N.E. Staff, wearing gloves and face masks, cooked and served pancakes, potatoes and omelettes stuffed with turkey and sausage.

“It’s nice to see the people,” said Blanchard, who welcomed back regulars as well as new customers. “They’re happy to see us.”

On Friday, May 22, Marion and Polk counties were allowed to enter the first phase of the governor’s plan to gradually reopen businesses closed due to the pandemic.

People ventured out to get their hair cut, get a tattoo or have a drink at a bar.

The Salem Center mall announced that many of its retailers were opening.

OK Barber Shop, located at 337 State St., was packed with customers wearing face masks.

While businesses and customers were happy to see each other, Salem reopened to a different world with uncertainty ahead. Masks and gloves are now a common sight.

Restaurants, hair salons and other businesses are restricting the flow of customers to maintain social distancing. The day before reopening, Gov. Kate Brown ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in recognition of those who have died from the virus.

Some businesses aren’t ready to fully open, such as Book Bin, located 450 Court St N.E., which is still only offering delivery and pick up.

Others weren’t ready at all.

The Original Pancake House on 4685 Portland Rd. N.E., remained close, along with the Governor’s Cup, 471 Court St N.E., and Addictions Body Piercing & Tattoo, 198 Liberty St S.E.

The tables at Word of Mouth Bistro, located at 140 17th St N.E., were still set with mustard, ketchup and hot sauce. But on Friday a handwritten sign posted outside read, “Sorry. Closed until further notice.”

Chad Ball, spokesman for Marion County, said that the county has been working with business groups to make sure local companies understand social distancing and other requirements. He said there is no definitive list of what businesses were open and the county has heard mostly positive reports about the reopening.

At Patty's Off-Center Cafe, located at 1741 Center St N.E., Ashley Benjamin, a server at the cafe, said that it would normally be busy with customers eating chicken-fried steak and breakfast burritos. But about two hours after opening at 7 a.m., she said she had two dine-in customers and four to-go orders.

“I think that it will be a little different,” she said from behind a face mask.

Before the reopening, restaurants were allowed to offer take-out. But even with the restriction lifted, chairs and tables are blocked off with yellow tape at King Donuts, 1695 State St., signaling that dine-in service is still not being offered.

Tou Keo, a manager at the shop, said he’s worried about the spread of coronavirus and wants to play it safe until more restaurants open and circumstances get a little closer to normal.

“I’m not letting people sit here yet,” he said.

Others are adjusting to a new normal.

At Cosmos Deja Vu, a salon located at 456 State St, receptionist Donna Ryan said that they’re asking customers to wait in their cars for their appointments. Only three staff were working to maintain distancing, despite customers eager to get in, she said.

Normally, 15 or 16 staff would be working, she said.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” she said, holding up a thermometer used to check customers’ temperatures.

Shelby Looney sat in a chair getting her haircut. She said that during the stay-home order, she resorted to coloring her own hair. She said it felt great getting a haircut and missed her stylist.

“I woke up this morning, and I have plans today,” she exclaimed. 

Jason Helme, the general manager of West Coast Strength, said that people were waiting when the gym, located at 290 Moyer Lane N.W., opened at 5 a.m. In preparation, it set up handwashing stations, added taps to fill water bottles and installed plexiglass at the front desk.

He said that the gym’s 17 employees will also be working more hours, constantly cleaning weight plates, seats and other objects that customers unwittingly touch.

“Obviously, in a gym there's a lot of stuff that people touch,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, rock music echoed through Vagabond Brewing, located at 2195 Hyacinth St N.E. in the industrial landscape of north Salem.

Dean Howes, the brewery’s founder, said that the location is large enough that it could reduce its capacity from its usual 120 to 50 to keep social distancing. He said that during the stay-home order, the brewery kept up production of over 30 beers, in case of strong demand.

But he said that the industry is headed for rough times that he plans to ride out.

“We will be making less money for sure,” he said.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.