Tough call: Some local businesses reopen, while others hold off

Three Notch’d Brewing Company was one of the area establishments that welcomed back customers May 15, under Phase One of Virginia’s reopening. “We’ve really been preparing to do this for eight weeks,” says Scott Roth, the brewery’s president. PC: Sanjay Suchak Three Notch’d Brewing Company was one of the area establishments that welcomed back customers May 15, under Phase One of Virginia’s reopening. “We’ve really been preparing to do this for eight weeks,” says Scott Roth, the brewery’s president. PC: Sanjay Suchak

On Friday, May 15, a number of Virginia businesses got the green light to reopen (with restrictions), as part of Phase One of Governor Ralph Northam’s plan. But locally, response has been mixed, with some establishments instituting new safety measures to bring in badly needed customers, while others stay shut for now. Though the number of positive COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations in the state have declined over the past two weeks, there has been at least one new reported case of the virus almost every day for the past two weeks in the Charlottesville area.

Under Northam’s plan, restaurants with outdoor seating (along with places of worship) can reopen at 50 percent capacity. With its ample outdoor space, Three Notch’d Brewing Company is in a position to be a “leader in the community in setting a really high standard for what [reopening] should look like in our industry,” says president Scott Roth.

“We’ve really been preparing to do this for eight weeks. We’ve had a gloves-and-mask policy since March, and have required that our employees do daily wellness checks and screenings,” Roth adds. “[We’ve] been able to secure hand sanitizer to put on every table…[and] have 40-something-odd seats spaced appropriately on the patio,” among other health and safety measures.

In-person sales are vital to local craft breweries and wineries, and many have taken the opportunity to reopen. Random Row and Decipher Brewing have implemented policies similar to those at Three Notch’d, while Devils Backbone and Starr Hill are also requiring reservations and asking patrons to wear face coverings when not seated at their table. Champion Brewing announced its two locations will remain closed except for takeout and delivery, while it “continues developing plans for safe outdoor seating.”

Some wineries, like Keswick and Veritas, are also requiring reservations, while Knight’s Gambit allows walk-ins.

Multiple local restaurants have opened up their outdoor seating too, such as Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, The Lazy Parrot, and Martin’s Grill.

Under Phase One, non-essential retail is also allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, and several local retailers are now allowing limited in-person shopping. Customers can schedule a private shopping appointment at downtown boutiques Darling and Arsenic and Old Lace Vintage, as well as at The Artful Lodger and Lynne Goldman Elements. They can also shop (without an appointment) at certain stores, like Mincer’s at Stonefield, which is allowing no more than six customers inside at a time, and is requiring all customers and employees to wear masks.

Following state guidelines, some nail salons, hairdressers, and other personal grooming businesses across town have opened up by appointment only, including Boom Boom Nail and Waxing Lounge, His Image Barber Shop & Natural Hair Studio, and Hazel Beauty Bar. While restrictions vary at each establishment, all customers and employees are required to wear face masks at all times, forbidding services (such as lip waxing) that require removal of masks.

Despite all of these reopenings, dozens of other local businesses have decided to stick with contactless curbside pickup and delivery for now, citing health and safety concerns.

“Some of you may ask what it will take for us to reconsider and open our doors again. Again, in all honesty, we’re not quite sure. Certainly, a much more robust testing and contact tracing policy by our state and country,” said Ragged Mountain Running Shop in a May 12 Facebook post. “Beyond that, the emergence of more effective treatment options, widespread antibody testing, and on the distant horizon, a vaccine.”

While a couple of restaurants on the Downtown Mall, such as Vita Nova and Taste of India, have opened up their patios, many have decided to hold off—including Draft Taproom, The Whiskey Jar, Ten, The Fitzroy, The Pie Chest, The Alley Light, Citizen Burger Bar, and Zocalo.

Some, like Citizen Burger, pointed out that the mall is not the ideal location for safe outdoor seating. Though tables can be spaced at least six feet apart, restaurants have a limited amount of patio space available. Mall pedestrians are also able to walk right next to the patios, making it potentially more difficult to enforce social distancing guidelines.

Brooke Fossett, owner of The Brow House, has also decided not to reopen under Phase One, because she and her employees did not feel it was safe to do so.

“We literally touch people’s faces,” she says. “Salons and spas should not have been in Phase One. I know how bad some of them—and us—are struggling, and I wish that there was more support from the government for our industry.”

Hairstylist Claibourne Nesmith, who will not be opening her salon, The Honeycomb, until Phase Two, also thinks that personal grooming businesses should not be open now, and were thrown into Phase One “to appease people,” she says.

“Right now we don’t have adequate access to PPE…We don’t even have Barbicide or reusable tools that they are requiring for us to have,” says Nesmith. “If we’re getting all these requirements to be this careful, it kind of sounds like we’re not ready to go back.”

And under the state’s restrictions, those in the personal grooming industry who do go back to work will not be able to make much money, due to their limited amount of appointments (and tips), says Nesmith, who is currently advocating with others for partial unemployment benefits for employees who rely on tips (including waiters).

“This is just above our pay grade,” she says.

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