Businesses cope with Ivey order on closings

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Local businesses are trying to cope with Gov. Kay Ivey's order Friday to close non-essential businesses, with some concern for the future.

Ivey ordered a list of businesses and venues to close at 5 p.m. Saturday. Among them, as well as others, are hair salons, barber shops, craft stores, nail salons, tattoo stores, messaging services, tanning salons, bowling alleys, auditoriums, indoor children's play areas, bingo halls, jewelry stores, shoe stores, sporting good stores, department stores, furniture stores, theaters, public swimming pools, fitness centers, spas, and museums.

No more than 10 people at a time can meet. Sporting events requiring close interaction or sharing equipment were essentially banned, as was activity on commercial or public playgrounds.

The order will continue until 5 p.m. on April 17. However, a number of businesses have already closed or scaled back operations, including T.J. Maxx, Shoe Carnival, Belk, Bath & Body Works, Nail Galaxy, Moon's Day Spa, Cato Plus, Burkes Outlet and a number of hair salons.

Kiley Smith, the owner of Parkland Barbershop in Jasper, said Friday afternoon his shop has still been operating under strict precautions, only taking in one or two people at a time, requiring himself and the customers to wash hands.

Even before Friday's order, the ongoing pandemic has been rough for him.

"I'm just trying to stay alive right now," Smith said. "It's affected by business by over 50 percent. I've got about two or three months max that I can go through. After that, I'm looking for a house. I'll be out of business."

With the state shutting down the business altogether at 5 p.m. Friday, afterward he said he will "have to get back on the ball quick" to survive. The promised stimulus checks in the bill signed by President Trump Friday will help, "but $1,200 isn't much when you've got a home mortgage and a business. It's scary, man. I'm not going to lie."

Smith planned to close by 5 p.m. Saturday, noting he wants to follow the rules so he doesn't get in any trouble. With the closing, he said he could only privately cut hair for a handful of people who might come to his home, "but that is just a very select few. Not enough to get by, but just to give some spending money."

He said many other barbers and salons have already closed down because they had four or five employees, causing problems distancing. He didn't have that many in his shop, so he was able to stay open.

Smith said other barbers and hair stylists are worried.

"I guess everyone in the world is worried right now, especially business owners," he said, noting many are self-employed and cannot usually get unemployment as a result, although he noted the federal stimulus package may give exceptions for that. He said he is applying for unemployment just in case.

Rusty Richardson, the owner of Bernard's, the longtime men's clothing store in downtown Jasper, said he would respect the order, but noted "it's going to put a pretty big dent" in the store's overall business.

"We started closing this past Monday," he said. "The store is closed to the public. We have had just a few of us working inside the store together. We are still offering, of course, free delivery, curbside service. We can still do that, is my understanding. We can still offer those services. And we have a pretty good online presence as far as our social media goes. We'll still offer those three things."

He said employees may not always be inside the store but the phone numbers are posted and customers can message and text them.

"If someone has an immediate need, we can follow through and take care of that for them," he said. Under the order, he said he was still permitted to do that, "unless I'm looking at it wrong. We're closed essentially, but we will still be able to hand things out and jump in the car if someone needs a birthday gift, and gift wrap it and drop it off on the front porch. That is my understanding and we're going to continue to try to do those sort of things."

Richardson said people from Jasper and Walker County in general have been nice to the business, showing their concern.

"Some people have ordered gift certificates," he said. "They said, 'Rusty, we don't need anything right now but we want to help y'all out.' I can't be thankful enough for the reaction a lot of people have shown for the store."

Richardson said the governor's order will still "have a pretty major effect" for the store.

"This is prime time for us really because one big factor is the fact that school is closed for the remainder of the term and so there are no proms," he said. "We do a really nice formalwear business. This has shut that off entirely. A lot of people have put off weddings on hold until later in the summer. The proms were postponed at least."

Richardson said some people have told him that some parties may be held later in place of the proms, but he does not know how big those events would be.

Also, he said his Easter season is typically good. With Easter falling on April 12, the order puts "a blemish" on that opportunity. He also worried for those who love to worship at Easter, calling it a wonderful time to celebrate on Christ's resurrection.

"It won't change our feelings toward that, but as far as gathering in a church, it is going to dampen that also," he said.

Richardson said a good question now is how long businesses can last under the situation.

"I don't how to figure that. We can project and do all the things we want to do and think we are really smart in business. There is no good way to answer that question," he said.

In talking with other businesses, including other clothing retailers, Richardson thinks others locally have struggled.

"When you close those doors and people can't go in and out, it changes the whole routine."

However, he said the store would still try to come up with innovative ways to help customers under the emergency.

Debbie Young Sanders, president of Young Jewelers, said the showroom had already been closed on March 23 to the public, which is what she understands the governor's order calls for. And she understands the gravity of the COVID-19 situation and is doing what she can to comply.

"But we are open virtually," she said. "We are here by the phone. We have a website. In fact, we have a discount if you buy through the website right now. We have Facebook and Instagram, and we Facetime, because we know special occasions still go on, even through we are in the midst of unprecedented times. We've actually been fairly busy."

Sanders said the store is not currently taking in repairs but names and phone numbers are being taken down to call later when they are ready to take on repairs again.

"Our showroom is closed to the public, but we do curbside delivery. If they need to pick something up, they just need to call us and we will take it out to the car. We do free delivery inside the city limits for things," she said.

The hours have been shortened, but someone is inside the store from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, Sanders said. Employees are constantly cleaning the store as a precaution.

She said having to close the doors is still "a great matter of concern" for the business, and sales are off.

"But I feel I have a staff that depends on me for their salaries," and the public would like service as much as normally possible, she said.

She has talked to jewelers across the state and the nation. "Some of my suppliers, especially in the New York area, have been mandated to close. If I needed something from some of them, they are temporarily closed," she said, noted other areas of the country are also affected that way.

"I've talked with jewelers. We're just all going to try to remain cautiously optimistic that we will get a solution for this problem, and then we will move past this into better times," she said.