Coronavirus turns Grand Central Market into a ghost town: 'It's scary, sad and ugly'

Ruben Vives
Grand Central Market, a popular dining place in downtown Los Angeles, is now open only for takeout.  (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Most of the food vendors inside L.A.'s Grand Central Market were closed or had a few customers standing in line ordering food to go.

Rows and groups of stools and metal chairs sat on top of tables as staff walked around sanitizing them. Minerva Torres, 47, who runs a produce market, said she understands the concerns about the coronavirus but doesn’t think businesses should be forced to close.

“We lose money and we have bills to pay,” she said. “I have kids in universities that I need to help.”

Torres said that when she heard about Mayor Eric Garcetti's emergency order, she didn't know how it would affect her, given that most vendors inside the market sell food.

“I don’t own a restaurant,” she said. “I have a produce market that people will depend on.”

In the end she was allowed to open her market. Customers grabbed onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. But business is slow. She fears she won’t make enough after she pays her monthly $5,000 rent. Torres hopes the city will allow businesses to operate as normal. She doesn’t think two weeks will be enough to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mayor Eric Garcetti have ordered bars and nightclubs to close and restaurants to halt dine-in service and limit their business to takeout orders until March 31 or further notice.  (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“I think all this just adds to the hysteria,” she said.

Grand Central Market is one of America's most hip food hubs, a magnet for tourists and locals alike. But amid the coronavirus lockdown, traffic slowed to a trinkle.

In Los Angeles, bars amid the coronavirus lockdown and nightclubs have closed and restaurants have halted dine-in service and limited their business to takeout orders until March 31, following an order from Garcetti.

Movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers also will be closed, Garcetti said in a video news conference Sunday. Grocery stores, pharmacies and food banks will remain open. And Garcetti announced a moratorium on evictions for renters.

L.A. County officials announced the closure of all bars, fitness centers and movie theaters and directed restaurants to move to takeout only. The directive applies to all 88 cities and unincorporated regions of the county, including Los Angeles, which issued a similar directive Sunday. Officials are also banning gatherings of more than 50 people after a recommendation made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday.

Torres glanced around the market. “This is very strange,” she said. Outside, taking a bite of his carnitas taco, Reyes Quintanar, 38 and his wife, Olga Martinez, 40, said they decided to drive from Anaheim to downtown Los Angeles to purchase jewelry for family back in Mexico.

He said he was surprise to see how empty the Central Market was.

“It’s scary, sad and ugly,” he said. “We shouldn’t be living like this. It’s good to wash your hands and be cautious, but we should be able to go about and live our lives like we normally do.”

He said they came to downtown because they thought more businesses would be open and have more options, but they found that most are closed.

As they ate, security told them they couldn’t eat outside the market and needed to go elsewhere.

“Now they’re even rushing us out of here,” Quintanar said.