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Main Street comes back to life, but future uncertain for businesses

By Cory L. Higgs

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to shutter or reinvent how they conducted business. That left many areas with reduced traffic and customers.
Now, nearly two months later, some promise and life returns during Phase One of Gov. Ralph Northam’s three part plan.
As businesses open their doors, some owners said they are looking beyond the first phase to the second phase, which is scheduled to begin June 10. But, they are facing an uncertain future because the full impact of the closings remains unknown.

“My business was severely impacted by the shutdown. I decided to shut The Suites down from online booking, which is an integral part of my business,” Marsh said. She noted that she was only scheduling guests with previous stays in the suites to limit any potential spread and ensure only the regulars were coming by.

Of those regulars, she said many cut their stay short or canceled altogether. Marsh said she wasn’t directly limited by the governor’s order, but she scaled back to ensure everything was continually sanitized and to reduce her occupancy. She said she has turned down a few reservations as she isn’t prepared to open up full steam yet. Marsh added many guests are out of towners or even international travelers, and she wanted to limit any potential changes that may arise.

“My biggest concern for the future is that this area, already on a tenuous footing, will have a serious set-back economically,” she said adding, “I hope that the ‘American Can-Do spirit’ will win over the nay-sayers and those that have a negative outlook for this area and our economic possibility.”

Near the beginning of the pandemic, proprietor Sadie Ayers of Main Street’s newest business Leonardo’s Pizzeria & Bistro said that she feared she would have to furlough her employees and was unsure of her business future.

Two months in and with re-opening on the horizon, she said,” we will continue to keep it take-out only until the restrictions are over. Our dine-in area is just too small,” to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

Many restaurants have experienced financial hits, however much of the business transferred from eat-in to delivery and dine-out

options.

Because of the pizzeria’s placement on Main Street, outside seating would be impossible, leaving Ayers with few options. Ayers said she is thankful for the community support her restaurant has received in these trying times.

Wren Williams, of Schneider & Williams, P.C., said two months ago that while the legal world doesn’t stop for a virus, it does change. He had sent his employees home to continue their work and continued to do as much as possible as teleconferencing. Now, Williams said the business has slowed down.

“All the courts closed and continued their cases. That has been pretty hard on our business. We’ve still been able to do non-courtroom type work, but we’ve changed to all online or phone call type conferences with clients,” Williams said.

With courts reopening soon, his team is preparing for busier days; however, Williams said he plans to implement reduced hours and ‘semi-open’ hours until June or when things start to pick back up.

A representative from Bengals Apparel said it is too soon to determine whether business was impacted at their store, noting that Phase One had been implemented since May 15. The representative said it will take time to see whether customers would return. Many retail stores shut their doors as travel restrictions came into play.

The Coffee Break was a regular hang out spot for locals. However, on March 25, owner Denny Alley said keeping fewer than 10 people in the restaurant was difficult. He added that the view from his restaurant’s window was bleak.

When asked how business had been, Alley said, “what do you think? It’s been pretty frustrating and slow.”

Alley said the live music he used to host had been put on the back burner, and much of his business had slowed down substantially. He said he isn’t holding his breath for any significant changes following Phase One.

“We have a lot of retired folks in this county, and I know a lot of them are still scared to venture out. I think a lot of people won’t come back if there isn’t a vaccine,” Alley said, and suggested that business would continue to be slow until some safety assurance is granted.

He added that a lot of small businesses did not receive assistance from the government, and he fears that many businesses will not re-open. 

As of May 25, there are 14 confirmed cases in Patrick County. Surrounding counties have the following totals: Franklin (33 cases, 2 deaths); Henry (77 cases, 2 deaths); Floyd (5 cases); Carroll (77 cases, 1 death); Martinsville (24 cases, 1 death).

Phase One of Northam’s reopening plan began on May 15. Subsequent phases will continue as criteria are met.

Stay up to date on Phase Two by watching updates on The Enterprises’ Facebook page Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m.

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