By Kathy Knotts
With Governor Larry Hogan’s lifting of the stay-at-home order last week, area businesses begin the long-awaited, but slow, process of reopening retail stores and services with precautions.
Some breathed a sigh of relief, while others are being cautious while trying to suss out the details of a complicated patchwork of rules.
Calvert County is following the process outlined in the state’s Road to Recovery Phase 1 plan, calling for reduced capacity, physical distancing and wearing masks.
Medart Galleries in Dunkirk is among those businesses opening their doors after eight weeks of being shuttered. The art gallery, framing and gift shop will open with slightly reduced hours and safety precautions. Staff will disinfect surfaces between customers, encourage appointments and offer curbside pickup. They will also wear and sell masks.
“Next week, we will be giving David Gildersleeve masks away with purchases of his artwork,” says Teresa Schrodel, gallery director.
Just down the road, Dunkirk Vision is taking extra precautions such as screening eye patients on-site, taking medical history over the phone, having patients wait in their cars instead of the waiting room, limiting the number of people in their building, and requiring masks.
“We opened to routine care technically last Friday, but I wanted to do a soft launch to get our core employees trained with the new protocols,” says Dr. Rose Susel. The optometrist is lightly scheduling exams at this time. “We are looking forward to seeing our patients again,” adds Susel.
In Anne Arundel County, the move to reopen is on hold as County Executive Steuart Pittman opts to wait longer before putting Phase 1 into action. His Executive Order states that the county has not met certain criteria set by the local Health Officer. Retail businesses that were formerly closed may reopen for curbside activity, a model that consignment stores in Deale are adopting.
A Vintage Deale and Second Wind Consignments are utilizing social media “window shopping” to entice buyers. Teri Wilson of Second Wind and Jane Walter of Vintage Deale are posting photos of items to their Facebook pages so customers can shop remotely and then pick-up curbside at the store.
Annapolis is taking a different approach than Anne Arundel County as a whole. Last weekend, businesses within the city limits were allowed to reopen and a limited number of customers were able to go inside the shops.
Art galleries were given permission to reopen, granted they abide by the safety precautions.
Gallery owner Cynthia McBride is grateful. “I am so relieved to be open; it is relief tinged with caution and hope,” said the owner of both McBride Gallery in downtown Annapolis and Benfield Gallery in Severna Park. McBride hopes to recover some of the momentum she was experiencing before the shutdown.
Linda Mann, owner of Shades of the Bay in downtown Annapolis, expresses the same sentiment. “This week should normally be our busiest week of the year with (USNA) Commissioning, but now, we are closing early… I think it will take us several years to bounce back from what we lost while closed.”
Mann, who has been selling sunglasses in Annapolis since 1996, says her customers and employees are her top priorities, however. “I want my customers and my employees to feel safe. And we will do whatever it takes. Even if we have to close down again at some point, that’s what we will do.”
Shades of the Bay will require all customers to use hand sanitizer and wear a mask before entering the shop. “We may be the cleanest store on Main Street,” says Mann. “Everything a customer touches has to be sanitized before it is put back on display. We are constantly cleaning everything from the credit card machine to the counters and mirrors. We are using UV wands over all of the merchandise… and it’s costing me money to keep everything sanitized.”
Mann was able to hire back employees that had been laid off, but she hates the fact that many were making more on unemployment than at their retail job. She is happy to have them back, even if the future is uncertain.
“I think a lot is going to depend on what this virus does, it all depends on the virus. If it starts to go away, I think people will feel more comfortable going into retail environments,” says Mann. “People have to feel safe and once they feel safe again, they will find a new normal and we will adjust to what that is.”
It’s that attitude of determination that many small businesses are clinging to.
“It will be slow and steady; it will be many, many months to recover, maybe years,” says Cynthia McBride. “We will have to dig deep for the resolve, patience, grit, and a renewed creative ingenuity to get our customers to come back. Some never will.”