LIMA — Small, privately owned businesses that line Main Streets in countless Ohio cities, towns and villages opened their doors for the first time in nearly two months Tuesday as a shutdown order issued in March by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was officially lifted.
And while it was anything but business as usual for many retailers, an Ottawa businessman said he is optimistic about the future as the country battles through a novel coronavirus that has wreaked havoc on the economy and left an historic trail of death in its wake.
Greg Beckman said nearly a dozen clients had ventured into Beckman Jewelers in downtown Ottawa by early afternoon on Tuesday. He was pleased, but not surprised.
“While it’s still too early to tell for sure how things will go, I’m optimistic because of our community,” Beckman said. The store closed its doors March 28 due to the statewide spread of COVID-19. “But even during the shutdown, I’d be here in the shop and the phone would continue to ring,” he said.
Those calls were music to Beckman’s ears as the Ottawa community showed its support.
Laid-off employees of the jewelry store have all been recalled as the store begins to adjust to a new way of doing business. Portable barriers are placed throughout the showroom, and employees perform hourly cleaning of high-contact areas. Health checks are performed each morning on employees and face coverings, while not mandatory, are being strongly encouraged, Beckman said.
Across the street from the jewelry store, Tom Gustwiller’s clothing store was a bustling place on Tuesday. Among its customers were a couple who traveled more than an hour just to shop at one of their favorite businesses.
Bob Schrenk and his traveling partner, Betty Davis, had driven from Tiffin just to shop at Gustwiller’s. Asked if he had any qualms about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus as the state begins to open, Schrenk replied, “Oh, hell no.”
Schrenk said both he and Davis are of an age that is considered high-risk for COVID-19 and that both have some pretty extensive pre-existing medical conditions. But they believe in supporting Ohio retailers they’ve come to love.
“We’ve got to get this country back open, and the ingenuity of the American people will come through every time,” Schrenk said. “We’ve been coming here (to Gustwiller’s) for years. They’re good people and good to deal with.”
Tom Gustwiller said there was never a doubt the store would open as soon as permissible, “but we didn’t know what to expect.” To his delight, “we’ve been fairly busy.”
The store offers free face masks for its customers and strongly suggest they be worn inside the establishment. Hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes are readily available. Most, but not all, of the store’s staff has been recalled from layoff.
“We’re playing it by ear before we go full staff,” Gustwiller said.
A sign on the sidewalk in front of Town & Country Flowers asks customers to “Please wear a mask.” A smaller sign on the front door of the business repeats the request.
Floral designer Tonya Ridenour said a half-dozen or more customers had entered the store Tuesday morning and all were sporting facial coverings. “But it’s still too early” to tell if business will return to pre-virus levels, she conceded.
An order by Ohio Health Director Amy Acton allowing retail establishments to reopen took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Business owners are required to ensure a 6-foot distance between people, if possible, and must perform daily symptom health assessments for workers. Employees who show symptoms associated with the coronavirus are to be required to stay at home. All employees are required to wear facial coverings.