PRINCETON — Masks, hand sanitizing and other precautions were becoming the new normal Tuesday as some of West Virginia’s small businesses and restaurants reopened after weeks of precautions against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Starting Monday, small businesses employing 10 or less people could open their doors to foot traffic and restaurants could start offering outdoor dining. Several local businesses cautiously reopened Monday or waited until Tuesday while others decided to wait longer and see whether the numbers of new virus cases increased or remained the same.
Restaurants able to offer outdoor dining were waiting Tuesday for better weather. Brandon White, who owns Brandon’s BBQ & Grille in Pipestem, said his restaurant offers to-go orders and delivery during the stay-at-home order.
“We were going to open (today), but it was supposed to be 50 degrees and raining, so I’m not going to bother to open,” he said. “We’re open only Wednesday to Sunday out there.”
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. was forecasting sunny skies Thursday and again Saturday. White said he planned to offer outdoor dining when the conditions were nice.
May is usually one of the restaurant’s biggest months, but being able to offer outdoor dining let it will do about a 10th of the business it normally does this time of year, White said. He can seat only 36 customers outside, but the restaurant seats 150. He added that he was hoping outdoor dining would help let the public know he was still serving.
“I’m trying to be as absolutely positive as I can,” White said.
Small businesses have been using techniques such as curbside services, deliveries, and online shopping to maintain some revenue and stay in contact with regular customers. Owner Karen Rideout of the Bluefield Yarn Company had to suspend classes and lessons because of social distancing, but she had been using social media to maintain awareness of her store and while putting together kits for curbside delivery. Like other business owners, she was still accommodating customers who want to maintain their distance.
“I’m still doing curbside delivery, phone-in orders, online orders,” she said. “People can also make an appointment if they want to shop without anybody else in her”
Rideout spent Monday getting her store ready since it’s usually closed that day, but she opened Tuesday for foot traffic.
“I’m very excited to be back open. It’s been a long six weeks,” she said. “I’ve missed my customers. I’ve missed interaction with people. I’ve missed talking and getting to know people. I know a lot of my customers have missed the shop, too, and the friends they have made here.”
Precautions were still being taken.
“I’m doing what is recommended by the state like wearing masks, social distancing, limiting the number of costumers in the store at a time, no large groups, sanitizing hands and sanitizing the area after each customer,” Rideout said. “The maximum is two people in the shop, plus me, at a time.”
“To our community, I think we are doing a good job on staying home and staying put,” she added. “Also I just want to say thank you everybody for there support of all the small businesses here in Bluefield.”
Other businesses that could open their doors included hair salons and barber shops. Only one customer at a time was allowed into those establishments. Others waited outside for their turn until they received a phone call or a text.
“We were fully booked and enjoyed seeing all our clients,” Tinabeth Flanigan of File N Style Salon in Princeton said Tuesday. “And we were thrilled to see everyone. We’re just taking precautions right now.”
The nearby Sewing Gallery LLC along Rogers Street is normally closed on Monday, but it officially opened its doors to customers Tuesday.
“We’ve had a nice flow of traffic, not too much,” owner Sue Hardin said. “We’re requiring people to wear a mask and to clean their hands once they’re in the door. It’s went quite well so far. We’re having a good amount of orders online. Some people are still wanting us to bring their products outside; some people are still not quite comfortable with coming in yet, and I understand.”
Many people are staying cautious even though some businesses are reopening, and business owners are still feeling the pandemic’s impact on commerce.
“I think that’s going to be our new norm,” Hardin said. “I feel that, you know, even with us opening back up, it’s still going to have an impact on our economy as it goes on. I think we’ll be wearing masks for at least the next three months until things are under control; we sell masks at our store. We haven’t missed a day through it all. We’ve continued to work through the curbside service.”
At some point, business owners have to come to terms with the pandemic and its impact.
“You’ll open your doors or you’ll leave them closed,” Hardin said.