LIMA — Dennis Hefner won’t require customers to don a mask before entering Hefner’s TV. But he has ordered courtesy facial coverings to offer to customers who wish to wear one when his electronics store reopens this week.
“We wouldn’t mandate it,” Hefner said, “but if somebody wanted one, we felt like we should have one.”
Gov. Mike DeWine left it up to retailers to decide whether customers should be required to wear masks, now considered an effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus to others, after facing backlash to his initial universal mask policy that covered employees and customers alike.
It appears that some Ohio retailers are taking the same approach with their customers as DeWine is with retailers: masks are encouraged but not required.
The Lima Mall, for example, is asking but not forcing customers to cover their nose and mouth, leaving it up to individual stores to decide whether masks are necessary for shoppers.
But the mall is asking customers to avoid gathering in groups and remain at least six feet apart as it gets ready to reopen on May 12.
Social distancing has been a challenge for retailers, particularly large chains and grocery stores that have been allowed to operate during Ohio’s stay-at-home order. Stores have introduced one-way aisles, senior shopping hours and marked their floors to help customers socially distance themselves while waiting in line.
But for small businesses like Hefner’s, crowded stores are not an issue.
“If we have two groups of people in the store at one time, it’s pretty unusual,” he said.
Marc Bowker has relied on mail orders, Facebook Live and, more recently, curbside pickup to keep Alter Ego Comics alive since he temporarily closed the downtown Lima store on March 21.
Bowker obtained a paycheck protection loan from the federal Small Business Administration to keep his staff paid in the interim. And the store’s customers reached out regularly, he said, “probably making purchases they didn’t plan on making to support us.”
But those sales are still only a fraction of what Bowker would normally see with walk-in customers.
And Bowker had to postpone Alter Ego’s annual Free Comic Book Day celebration, a nationwide event which traditionally draws at least 2,000 attendees to downtown Lima and is his store’s biggest sales day of the year.
“We don’t know what the customer response is going to be and whether we’re going to see an increase in (COVID-19) cases that may reverse everything once we reopen,” he said. “We’re taking it one week at a time.”
For now, the plan is to reopen Alter Ego this week with the typical changes: employees will wear masks, while customers will be encouraged, rather than required, to wear facial coverings; plexiglass shields have been installed a the register; and only 10 customers will be allowed inside the store at once.
And Bowker plans to continue offering mail order and curbside pickup, a safety net option for customers who are nervous about shopping in-person and the possibility that DeWine may eventually reverse his decision to allow retail stores to operate.
More outdoor dining
Staff at The Met have already started rearranging tables to ensure six feet of separation between parties when the restaurant resumes outdoor dining on May 15, with indoor seating to follow on May 21.
The restaurant will have a new seating configuration when it reopens, but it has not decided whether reservations will be required as fewer parties will be allowed to dine in at once.
“We know that people want to linger because they haven’t been out, but we also want to give a lot of people the chance to come in and dine,” said Elizabeth Leis, director of operations at The Met. “We’re not sure how we’re going to do that yet.”
In the past, Leis said customers could wait for a table in the lobby. But now, with new guidelines limiting the number of guests allowed within the restaurant at a time, Leis said those customers may need to wait in their vehicles instead.
“We’re going to do our best to work out that flow,” she said.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.