‘6 weeks, and it stings’: Closures a painful trial
By Samantha Lyles
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, caution remains the order of the day – by order of the state and federal government. But restrictions on some businesses are loosening, and with every “Open” sign flickering to life, the faint pulse of Darlington’s economic heartbeat gets stronger.
“Basically, we were closed this whole month (April) and back through the middle of March. So that’s six weeks, and it stings,” says Ronnie Westbrook, owner of The Collector’s Box.
Westbrook says that during the closure, he kept in touch with some regulars who bought sports memorabilia and coins on an appointment basis, but that trickle of income was a drop in the bucket compared to prior store traffic. He reopened the shop on Saturday, April 25, and was “swamped” with customers eager to re-establish part of their collecting routine.
Hopefully, more local and state businesses will experience a similar bounce-back. On Thursday, April 23, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster convened the first meeting of the “Accelerate SC” initiative, a group charged with plotting out a timeframe for getting the state’s businesses up and running soon and safely.
McMaster has already permitted some businesses to reopen, including department stores, sporting goods stores, book and music shops, and sellers of shoes, jewelry, flowers, and leather goods. All these retailers must limit occupancy to five customers per 1,000 square feet, or (if this number is lower) 20 percent of listed occupancy limits for their buildings.
“The main thing we have to do is make sure (when we come out of this), we maintain the social distancing,” McMaster said. “If we are smart we can come out of this quickly, but we must do so safely.”
Westbrook says to stay within these recommendations, he is limiting the number of customers to allow for safe distancing, and he’s disinfecting doorknobs, counters, and any touched surface after shoppers depart.
While the retail sector welcomes back customers, other businesses like gyms, salons, and barber shops, are still waiting for the go-ahead to reopen.
“Our income has been cut to zero,” says Curtis Boyd, Darlington Mayor and owner of Fitness World Gyms. “It’s just not fair to ask us to stay closed for a month or a month and a half with no definition of when they’re going to reopen. We just sit here in limbo.”
Boyd says he’s used the downtime to conduct deep cleanings of all gym locations and procure safety equipment for the “new normal” when doors open again.
“I’ve bought touch-free thermometers so whoever’s at the front desk can take your temperature when you walk in the door. I’ve bought masks so our staff can wear those if it’s required. I’ve bought additional sanitation supplies for members to use inside the building to keep things clean,” says Boyd. “To me, you should feel safe, but you can’t live in a bubble.”
While gyms like Fitness World have adequate space for patrons to social distance, barber Jimmy Cooper says the nature of salons and barber shops presents a specific challenge.
“It’s a close proximity business,” says Cooper. “So when we’re allowed to reopen, we will be limiting the number of customers to three at a time to allow for six feet of space between them. Once those customers leave, we’ll go through a wipe down and sanitizing of all furniture, bathrooms, and all implements and tools.”
In operation for 100 years, Cooper’s Barber Shop has become a Darlington social hub where customers gather to trade tales while getting a shave or haircut. Jimmy says the long closure has been particularly hard on his father, James Cooper, Jr., who really misses the community aspect of his work.
“My father is 77 years old and he’s never even thought about retiring until this happened… this shop is where he sees his friends every day and they sit and talk,” Jimmy says. “We’ve been blessed with a strong clientele base, and they’re telling us they’re ready for us to open back up. But we want to make sure that when we do reopen, the barbers are safe and the community is safe as well.”
President Donald Trump has unveiled Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phased plan aimed at getting people back to work while minimizing the risk of a second COVID-19 wave. These phases are based on the advice of public health experts, and can be implemented on a statewide or county-by-county basis at the discretion of state governors.
According to whitehouse.gov, Phase One reads as follows:
“Schools and organized youth activities (e.g., daycare, camp) that are currently closed should remain closed.
Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited. Those who do interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.
Large venues (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can operate under strict physical distancing protocols.
Elective surgeries can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient basis at facilities that adhere to cms guidelines.
Gyms can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
Bars should remain closed.”
As of yet, there is no guidance for reopening salons and barber shops. For more information on Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, visit www.whitehouse.gov, and for the latest advisories for South Carolina, visit www.governor.sc.gov