Downtown Petaluma: Before and After COVID-19

Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, downtown Petaluma had a vibrant, busy atmosphere.


Annabelle Stuelpe and Daniel Lubliner

Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, downtown Petaluma had a vibrant, busy atmosphere. The myriad of restaurants attracted many, and the movie theater and the Sweet Zone –– which has now gone out of business, due to the pandemic –– added to the nightlife. Petaluma Boulevard has businesses lining the streets, a popular one being Della Fattoria, that have had to adapt to the current situation of lockdowns and restrictions. For high school students, downtown Petaluma has served as a spot to get together, hangout, and study. Senior Ella Keefer discusses her experiences frequenting her favorite coffee shop in downtown Petaluma prior to the pandemic. 

“My favorite coffee shop, Aqus Café, is in downtown Petaluma. Its welcoming atmosphere and tasty drinks make it the perfect place to do homework and talk to friends, and I have been a regular customer there for over four years. Last year I spent countless hours at Aqus writing essays while eating apple pie and drinking a cappuccino, and I plan on continuing to do so until I move away,” said Keefer. 

Keefer notes the changes Aqus Café has made to keep its customers safe amidst the pandemic.

“During lockdown in March and April, Aqus closed completely. Right now they are serving food and offering outdoor seating. Although I miss being able to sit inside the shop, I have sat outside a couple times to do homework within the last month and am very glad they are open again,” said Keefer.

Keefer broadens the scope of her commentary, shifting the focus from Aqus Café to the changes she has observed in the greater downtown area in response to the virus.

“Although there are certainly fewer people downtown and everyone’s wearing masks, the overall vibe has returned mostly to normal. During lockdown it was sad to see the empty streets and closed stores, but since lockdown has been lifted there have been people eating outside at their favorite restaurants and looking through shops while safely masked. COVID has certainly changed how stores, shops and people function, but everyone is making the best of it in downtown Petaluma,” said Keefer.

Keefer further comments on how the virus has altered her favorite downtown hangouts. 

“It is certainly strange to have to wear a mask everywhere you go, but looking through shops in downtown has not changed in a major way. Because so many nonessential businesses had to close during quarantine, many stores went out of business, but the clothing shops and antique stores that I enjoy looking through have thankfully stayed afloat,” said Keefer.

Senior Jacob Isola weighs in on the changes he has observed downtown.

“The vibe has definitely changed downtown. There is considerably less nightlife and there are less things to do such as the movie theatre being shut down and the bowling alley being closed. There are less shops open and it doesn’t seem as lively. Although I don’t usually browse the shops they don’t seem as fun anymore,” said Isola.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended normalcy both locally and globally, but communities around the world have found plenty of ways to adapt to these changes. By social distancing, partaking in curbside dining, and wearing masks, the people of Petaluma have been able to continue enjoying the downtown ambiance while adhering to public health regulations. Local business owners in turn have fostered this community spirit by keeping a watchful eye on their customers to ensure that all necessary social distancing rules are being followed. Downtown Petaluma may look different at the moment, but these changes are temporary. Eventually, as the virus dies down, outdoor dining will move back into the familiar indoors, masks will no longer hide smiles, and downtown Petaluma will return to its former state.