Retail stores across the state are allowed to reopen to in-person customers Wednesday while following a long list of guidelines from Gov. Andy Beshear, but just because they can open doesn’t mean they will.
Some local stores, like Gracious Me! and Staton’s Art and Framing, will reopen Wednesday, while a couple, like PS&J Fashion and Milkweed Health and Harmony Emporium, plan to hold off a little while longer.
“We’re in the middle of redoing some things in the shop, and I want to make sure we have it nice and ready to revamp and reopen,” said Milkweed owner Julie-Anna Carlisle. She plans to reopen her Ninth Street business on May 27 but will post the official date on the company’s Facebook page.
Selita Babb, owner of PS&J, said she doesn’t have a reopening date but will continue curbside service for her customers.
“I still change the (display) window, and people will see stuff in the window and let me know what they would like to buy,” said Babb, who has operated the store on South Campbell Street since 1991.
“I’m going to hold off for a little while longer because I feel like they’re putting us out there a little early,” she said.
The COVID-19 virus is still claiming lives across the state and the country; however, local numbers appear to have plateaued. According to the Monday update from Christian County Health Department, there have been 99 local cases — 86 recoveries, 10 active and three deaths.
Free testing is available at Tie Breaker Park from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
What business openings will look like
Sherry Calhoun, owner of Gracious Me!, said she hasn’t been physically in her clothing and gifts shop since March 17, but she stopped in briefly Monday to prepare her staff for the new guidelines.
Employees will get temperature checks before starting each shift and will be required to wear a mask while at work. A table at the store’s front door will have disposable masks and hand sanitizer for shoppers.
“We are asking our customers to wear masks, but that will be their choice,” Calhoun said. “We will have stickers on the floor to remind you of social distancing, and we also have plexiglass shields on our counters for an additional safety grade.”
Per the governor’s six-page guideline for Healthy At Work, stores can refuse service to customers who refuse to wear a mask, but it is not a requirement.
Additionally, some of the requirements include limiting the number of customers in the stores at a time, discouraging the use of items before a sale and disinfecting regular high-touch areas.
Calhoun, who is taking chemotherapy, said she is heeding every precaution to keep both herself, her staff and customers safe amid the pandemic.
According to New Era archives, Gracious Me! had one employee who contracted the virus in March. The store closed to in-person customers immediately and was disinfected by a professional cleaning company. Sales shifted to online, curbside and delivery.
Calhoun said although none of her staff has been laid off due to the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program, she will bring employees back as needed.
“We actually have no idea of what to expect or how many people are ready to get out or be home,” she said. “We’re hoping we can get back to some form of normalcy while being as safe as possible.”
Per her doctor’s orders, Calhoun will be staying home a little while longer to protect her immune system from the threat of the novel coronavirus, which doesn’t have a vaccine.
For customers who also need to remain isolated and quarantined, Calhoun said Gracious Me! will continue its curbside, online and home delivery options.
“Just for those who aren’t comfortable coming in yet or for those like me who are (immuno-)compromised, we will continue to offer that service,” she said. “After every customer, we will be wiping down our door handles and keypads and just disinfecting hourly.”
Hours at the store will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday through the rest of May. Merchandise will be 20% off and a big comeback sale will be held May 28-30.
Hope for a bounce back
Staton’s owner said the crux of his business — framing — has been “virtually nothing” during the pandemic, but he’s confident the store will bounce back.
“I think we’re going to come back and be alright,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and we just try real hard to be competitive with all that.”
Monroe said he’s got a new T-shirt in the works that ties in Big Blue Nation and Hopkinsville’s love of the Kentucky Wildcats, and he anticipates it being a big seller when it’s ready at the end of the week.
“I know it will be hard for some businesses, and I hate it for them and hope that they can bounce back too,” he said of the effort to reopen.
Like many business owners, Carlisle said she has certainly felt the financial affect of COVID-19.
“We have done curbside service and we have an online store, and honestly the sales have been dribbling,” she said. “We haven’t pushed it, and as far as social media, it has been really hard for me to justify shoving products on social media when people don’t know when they’re going to get another job or another paycheck.”
Carlisle said she has wondered how she would pay her own bills a couple of times during the pandemic, but made ends meet thanks to filing for unemployment at the advice of her CPA and the generosity of a couple of her regular customers.
“One person was super sweet,” Carlisle said. “She called me up and said, ‘Julie-Anna I want to spend $100. You know what I like; just throw everything in a bag and meet me at the curb.
“That was exactly what I did, and she was so thrilled,” Carlisle said. “She wrote me a check for $100 and it was rolled up and I didn’t look at it until I got into the store, and there was another check for $200.”
Fighting back tears, Carlisle said another customer did the same thing. She called them “Earth angels.”
“The times that happened, I just crumbled,” she said. “We’ve barely had enough to pay our bills. It’s like shuffling around Post-It notes, moving money here and there to fix it ... Whenever we saw this coming, it was literally like standing at the shore watching the biggest tidal wave coming in and there wasn’t a darn thing you could do about it.”
Carlisle said it’s going to take a lot of repair and time for businesses to recoup the losses they’ve experienced amid the pandemic.
When she reopens next week, Carlisle said she is going back to the basics. Hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
“I’m not only running the business but I’m making all of the products,” she said. “I just finished making some moisturizer out of rosewater, almond oil and beeswax. All my products are all natural, nothing but essential oils. That’s really how Milkweed was born, just trying to make products for myself.”
The store has about 12 different varieties of soap, good-for-earth home cleaner and lip balms. Carlisle is also an artist.
“It’s just going to be me again — I’m not going to have employees,” she said, noting that she tried to apply for SBA grants and loans but never got approved. “When you’ve got a zillion people ready to pounce on this one little grain of sand, you’re not going to get what you need or are hoping for.”
“The main thing that has held us together is we have kept our head and we have had some of the most wonderful local support,” she said. “Those moments when you walk into the shop after working so hard and you unfold this money, it gives you that extra breath, that extra boost that you are being taken care of, you’ve just got to have faith and keep doing what you’re doing.”