Home General With Re-Openings in U.S. South, Some Merchants Lay Out Welcome Mat, Others...

With Re-Openings in U.S. South, Some Merchants Lay Out Welcome Mat, Others Fearful

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Angie Bullman arranges to reopen her suburban Atlanta hair salon on Friday after shutting down a month ago to conform with state regulations. She and her co-owner husband, also a stylist, are fully booked for the weekend.

Salon de la Vie’s five other stylists, esthetician and massage therapist, will come back to work on May 1, when the state’s stay-at-home regulations will alleviate.

“We got to get back to work,” Bullman claimed. “I am just not all that freaked out about it.”

Georgia is one of several states that will enable more businesses to reopen beginning this week and next. The state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, gave the go signal bowling alleys, gyms, salons, massage parlors, and tattoo to restart on Friday, followed by restaurants and movie theaters next week. It is not clear how rapid businesses will jump at the opportunity to reopen.

White House guidelines claim states should wait until new cases are on the low before reopening. The virus has killed more than 45,000 people in the United States, more than any other country.

But Kemp and other governors are cautious about getting their economies rolling again, which would bring in income and sales taxes, the primary revenue sources for most states. The lockdown has shattered state budgets, and the latest federal government coronavirus aid bill, set to be approved this week, does not include new money for state and local governments in part because Trump administration officials and some Republicans were concerned it could deter them from reopening.

Georgia has fewer coronavirus cases and deaths per capita than the national average, but one of the lowest rates of testing. Even so, claims have been on the rise, with 1,242 new infections detected over the previous 24 hours, the highest single-day tally in two weeks.

Bullman is unruffled and claimed while she will wear a mask, she will not necessitate her customers to do so. She claimed her salon is housed in a 4,000-square-foot building with tall ceilings and plenty of ventilation and can easily space customers out.

“I just don’t think our environment is a high risk,” she said of both her salon and community.

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON

Just because governors prefer their economies to restart does not mean they will transpire as fast as a door opens. Some business owners are anxious, and customers may be too, about their spending and health through the steepest economic downturn in 90 years.

Shonda King runs Gifted Creations hair salon in Midway, near Georgia’s Atlantic coast, with her daughter. Before the turmoil, they were fully booked with an African-American clientele. The salon has been closed since late March, and King has been living off savings.

Even so, King will not be reopening on Friday.

“The governor is saying; You can go back to work. But at the risk of losing your life? People are walking around with COVID, and they don’t even know it,” she said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the virus. “Why should we put our lives on the line to go out and style hair?”

King claimed it would be impossible for her to comply with social distancing requirements. “There is no way you can stay six feet apart – my arms aren’t even six feet long!” King stated. She hopes to reopen in May, but only once the number of cases in her area are dropping.

Steve Pitts, 53, general manager of Manuel’s Tavern, a renowned fixture just east of midtown Atlanta for more than six decades, is in the same camp as King.

“It’s still too dangerous,” Pitts claimed. “Even with protection, you’d still be breathing the same air for hours. We need to listen to scientists and epidemiologists and not the politicians.”

Pitts stated as soon as Kemp declared arrangements to reopen restaurants for dine-in service starting Monday, his phone started “blowing up.”

“I started fielding concerns from the staff; some have been here for 25 years, one since ’78. They’re in their 50s and 60s. Our concern is for them and for our customers.”

MIDDLE GROUND

In South Carolina, the state’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster, began to ease restrictions on Monday, just two weeks after imposing a stay-at-home order. Businesses that may reopen are limited mostly to department stores, and furniture, clothing, shoe, and jewelry stores. There are strict limits on the number of customers allowed in each store.

Chuck Dawson is relieved to be back in business. In the two weeks, his six furniture and mattress stores, J&K Home Furnishings, located along the state’s coastal Grand Strand, was mostly closed, revenue was down 90%.

“I don’t think he’s done it too early. He’s not opened bowling alleys or gyms,” Dawson said of the governor’s actions. “We are seeing customers. It’s a nice start and an appropriate one.”

For now, he is regulating how many of his 56 employees are on site. On Tuesday, he had 5 employees in his largest store, as opposed to the usual 15 to 18. All those whose jobs may be done from home can do so, he claimed. He has masks and wipes for customers.

South Carolina has more than 4,000 established coronavirus cases and growing.

Dawson does not consider business will be on fire any time soon. He hopes to be up to 50% of average revenue for May but does not see returning to pre-crisis levels until at least October.

“People are scared and pulling back. They’re scared to come out,” he said.

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