Georgia governor Brian Kemp announced on Monday that businesses such as gyms, beauty salons, body art studios, tattoo parlors, and bowling alleys may partially reopen on Friday, so long as they abide by a set of new safety regulations.
President Trump initially praised and then criticized the governor's plan, saying Wednesday that it's still "too soon" for businesses to open. Health advocates, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, say it's a mistake. And even local elected officials across the state say it's too soon. But the governor's order supersedes local authority--and gives people the right to visit these businesses without violating the state's shelter-in-place order, which is set to expire at the end of April.
Such rules and calendar-countdowns don't make a difference to Linda Sharp. She says she's not even thinking about reopening her five-year-old Atlanta nail salon, Lark & Sparrow, until an order of gloves, masks, and face shields for her 20 furloughed employees arrives in mid-May. Then, she says, she'll decide mostly on the basis of health statistics like new coronavirus cases per day and hospital capacity.
"I don't know what numbers would make me feel safe, but I definitely want the numbers to be going down," she says.
When Reopening Doesn't Make Business Sense
Like many others, Sharp will operate at limited capacity upon reopening. Georgia's new regulations mandate that individual worksites, such as barber chairs, stay at least six feet apart from each other--meaning that some businesses could actually lose money by reopening. Following the governor's order, some owners also worry that landlords who had waived their rent could begin charging again, even if they stay closed.
For Danny and Ellen Softness, married co-owners of three Gymboree franchise locations in Atlanta, the only reopening metric that matters is customer demand--and that doesn't exist yet. "Our particular business is a social activity," Danny Softness says. "There is no way to really social distance and still cover our expenses. So until demand returns, we may not even be able to open--and that could be many months."
The couple faces another challenge: Many of the children who go to Gymboree could soon age out. A relaunch would necessitate a huge marketing effort, which would prove a waste if coronavirus cases spike again and businesses are again forced to shut down. "We're entrepreneurs and risk-takers," Danny Softness says. "But we don't want to waste money reopening a business that won't be profitable."
A Mixed Reaction Statewide
The cautious approach to reopening isn't uniform across the state. A spokeswoman for the Butts County Chamber of Commerce in central Georgia tells Inc. that roughly half of the county's eligible businesses are planning to reopen--primarily because they can't hold out any longer for financial reasons. And Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, says most businesses he's heard from are "appreciative and thankful for the opportunity to resume some minimum business operations."
Linda Dobson, the founder and sole employee of Linda Dobson Salon in Alpharetta, says she'll open Friday for customers desperate for haircuts, and then close down again until Georgia's shelter-in-place order expires. When she reopens in May, she'll see only one client at a time, effectively halving her revenue. She'll also meet customers at the door with hand sanitizer or soap and water, asking if they've recently had coughs or fevers before letting them in.
"I can't control if someone does lie and they come in, and they do have symptoms," Dobson says. "I would like to think that wouldn't happen. I don't think getting their hair done is more important than that."
Putting the Burden on Business Owners
Kemp, in his announcement, placed the onus on business owners to "convince the public it's safe to go back into these businesses." That's not so easy.
Karen Patton, owner of Peach Out Power Yoga in Marietta, says she plans to stay closed, because keeping customers' trust will be impossible if even one contracts the coronavirus at her studio. "I want to get back to normal, but this has put a lot of pressure on us," Patton says. "At the end of the day, you're making a decision: Do I save my business or do I let people get sick in my studio? And that's not a fair decision for us to have to make."