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Small Biz New Normal: Salons, restaurants and retailers reopen

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When planning for the reopening of her downtown hair salon, Valeria Boss said she modeled changes on the city and county’s guide of intensity and density to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Half of the stylist chairs at A Valeria Boss Salon have been removed and a 7-foot banner sits between each station. Guests and employees alike are wearing face masks, which are required by local orders, and appointments are being kept to maintenance only, Boss said, no drastic cuts or color changes.

It’s a huge shift in business operations. But Boss said she is thrilled to be opening after six weeks of closure, which dealt a big blow to the salon’s bottom line. With at least 80 appointments booked daily for the first week back in business, Boss and her 30 stylists will be busy.

“We’re in an industry that, for the most part, people can’t do on their own,” she said. “Our guests still love us. They’re going to come back to us.”

City of Springfield and Greene County officials announced its Road to Recovery plan April 30, allowing many businesses that had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic to reopen with restrictions. As of May 4, the orders permit restaurants, personal care businesses, gyms and retail stores to reopen. Additionally, a May 7 addendum allowed bars and entertainment venues to reopen.

The new rules require the companies to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing and cleaning, and place a cap on occupancy. For personal care companies operating in under 10,000 square feet, occupancy is 25% of the businesses’ square footage divided by 30. At the salon, that’s 66 customers and employees. Retailers follow the same guidelines, but the occupancy cap applies to customers only.

Navigating the rules presents quite the challenge for business owners. And the health of employees and customers is on the line.

“We’re about to unlock our doors to a lot of unknown,” said Meghan Chambers, owner of clothing shops Staxx and Jellybeans.

“We were going back and forth a lot about it … We’re comfortable with the policies we put in place.”

The doors will remain locked at the Brentwood Center North stores, and customers can text a number to be let inside.

Chambers said this helps keep occupancy limitations in place, which the store has capped to 10. Store hours are limited, as well, to allow for more time to clean and serve at-risk customers with private shopping. Any clothes customers try on will go through a 275-degree steamer and remain off the floor for a set period of time. Employees are wearing masks.

Chambers said with the Paycheck Protection Program, she was able to keep paying her 15 employees, even as the store was closed.

“My No. 1 focus was to take care of them,” she said.

Chambers even took a cut to her own salary. She said the business losses were massive, with nearly 60% of revenue gone in April.

“It’s a hard business when you have inventory,” she said. “Every day I was in here punching numbers. We were in no position where I felt like it was a 911, but it was getting there."

On Commercial Street, Joe Gidman reopened his tea and spice shop and two restaurants on May 4. Although restaurants were allowed to offer to-go orders during the shutdown, Gidman said he chose to keep restaurants Cafe Cusco and Van Gogh’s Eeterie closed.

“The drop in business with to-go and carryout would have sunk us actually,” he said. “We shut everything down and froze our assets.”

Chabom Tea and Spices recently opened for online sales, which he said has brought in more customers. But he primarily used the closure to clean and remodel Cafe Cusco with his mother and co-owner Claire Gidman.

“We’ve been open 7 days a week for 7 years,” he said. “It gave us a lot of chance to reevaluate where equipment was … and get rid of stuff that would hold bacteria, germs and viruses.”

That meant many of his 48 employees filed for unemployment during the closure, but he’s been able to start bringing staff back through a PPP loan.

“We are very strong stock. We don’t give up,” he said.

In reopening, Gidman said he’s closed some tables to diners to observe social distancing. Servers are wearing masks and single-use gloves when removing dishes from tables. Hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the restaurant.

“We expect everybody to be cautious over the next couple weeks. We’re not asking anyone to come out if they feel unsafe,” he said.

But he’s hopeful business will return.

“This is one of the best communities in the world to open a small business,” he said.

In the Rountree neighborhood, Ellecor Design and Gifts co-owner Hayden Long said the retailer reopened May 5. She’s enforcing occupancy limits, cutting down open hours, asking customers to wash their hands before private consultations and wiping down surfaces often.

“It’s not worth everybody going back thinking everything is fine. We have to weigh the risk and the reward,” Long said. “Hopefully, a lot of retailers take it slowly.”

She said the bulk of her business is construction remodeling and design, which was deemed essential and remained open. But she’s still seen a slowdown.

“Our phones have not being ringing like they normally do,” she said. “What we do is the last thing that people are going to splurge on.”

Salon owner Boss said the closure has had a significant impact on the business, but she is thankful to be reopening in May and not in June. She said that would have been devastating to see another month of bills with no money coming in.

“We saw our business account shrink and personal savings dumped into it,” she said. “If we opened now and didn’t have the PPP loan, it would take us a year to come back. Now, we can make that back in four to six weeks.

“We just continued to have faith we were going to come back.”

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