MINT HILL, NC – On Tuesday, May 5, Governor Cooper signed Executive Order No. 138. Effective as of 5:00 pm on Friday, May 8, the order replaces Executive Order No. 121, better known as the “Stay at Home” order, which confined all North Carolina residents to their homes for a period of six weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order also mandated the temporary closure of businesses deemed nonessential, forcing many local small retailers to severely limit the scope of their business or even close indefinitely.
During the six weeks, the stay at home order was in effect, many local retailers modified the way they operate to remain open in some capacity. “We have actually been here maybe three days out of the six every week just trying to get things right, putting out new products,” says Pam Eggleston, Owner of Goodness Gracious Gifts and Interiors. “We’ve also had curbside pick-up. People can call us, they’ve been texting us on Facebook and saying, ‘Oh I need paint, I need this, I need that,’ and so we get it ready and they come and we offer curbside pick up.”
“It’s definitely slowed down,” says Pour 64 Owner Sarah Brock. “I mean, we’re not doing what we would normally do last May or April of 2019. We made some adjustments to our workflow to accommodate our online orders and curbside service.”
“It’s been an adjustment,” says Woof ‘n Hoof Owner Patrick Holton. “We’ve had to adjust the way that we’re doing business and the way that we’re interacting with our customers. We’ve been fortunate to be being essential we’ve been able to maintain being open to some sort of capacity during this time.”
The new order moves North Carolina into Phase One of Governor Cooper’s gradual reopening plan. Described by the Governor as a “limited easing of restrictions” designed to “boost certain parts of our economy while keeping important safety rules in place,” the order removes the distinction between essential and nonessential businesses. It allows retail businesses to open at 50% capacity as long as they observe certain social distancing and sanitizing protocols. While residents are still advised to stay at home, it increases the number of reasons they are allowed to leave, permitting travel for commercial activity at any business that is open.
“When the initial closure went into effect, I condensed the hours down significantly,” says Holton. “I’ve expanded them now, Monday through Friday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Hopefully, when things gradually progress on and it’s safe, we’ll go to the full operating schedule that we had before of 9:00 am – 7:00 pm.
“We have to monitor the number of people in the store, which is really not a problem for us,” says Eggleston. “We have a station set up that when you come in you use hand sanitizer. If you have gloves, you still have to use hand sanitizer because we don’t know where your gloves have been! We don’t require that you wear a mask. We do, when customers come in we typically put on a mask. That’s about it for us, and we’ve been very lucky. We had a really good response on Saturday to people coming in.”
“For us, being in the bar and restaurant phase, which is Phase 2, Phase 1 is still business as usual,” says Brock. “We’re still continuing online ordering and curbside pickup. We’ve been using this time to make some small improvements within the building, such as painting.”
The new executive order will remain in place until 5:00 pm on May 22, at which point the Governor will evaluate key metrics to determine if the state is prepared to move into Phase 2, which would allow businesses like restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, gyms, and personal care businesses to open at reduced capacity. However, the move to Phase 2 is far from certain. Depending on statewide COVID-19 trends, restrictions may be lifted more gradually, or even be reinstated.
Small businesses will continue to face challenges as we move through and beyond the three phases of the reopening plan. According to Eggleston, just getting the word out about being open is a challenge. “If something happens and we end up having to go back to before phase 1, letting people know that they can still call they can still come by and call us from outside the store and we’ll get whatever they need,” says Eggleston. “We’ll even show them things through the window, we’ve done that before! So that’s kind of where we are right now and what we’re anticipating.”
Holton’s main concern as we move toward this “new normal” is safety. “Not only for the customers but for the employees here,” says Holton. “Making sure everything is clean and sanitized as much as we can. We put in a hand sanitizing station near the door as well, too. We’re just trying to get back to some sort of normalcy, but we want to make sure it’s safe when we can.”
It will be another four to six weeks of Phase 2 before the state considers a move into Phase 3, which would lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations and increase capacity for restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, places of worship, and other businesses. However, even in Phase 3, the Governor will continue to encourage common sense social distancing and sanitation measures, and a spike in infections at any point could trigger reinstatement of stricter restrictions. For small business owners, it’s clear that the impact of COVID-19 will be long-term. How can we as a town best support these small businesses?
“Just by coming in or calling and ordering things,” says Eggleston. “We’ve had a huge surge in our paint products. People call about those, and we have them ready for them. We have a lot to offer even if you don’t come in and shop around, and I think that will keep our business going, keep us afloat.”
“We’re fortunate to live in this great town where they do shop local and they do support local,” says Holton, expressing the way many local business owners likely feel right now. “So not only my business but with other businesses, just get out. If you’ve never been in the store before, stop in, see what we’ve got to offer. We’re small but we do pack a lot in here and if there’s something that we don’t have, just ask, we can probably get it for you.”