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With some caution, Carroll County small business owners make reopening plans: ‘It’s even more than I was asking for’

Jessica Crawford, pictured May 8, runs Cotton & Co. Vintage Boutique in Keymar. Crawford, who has been selling online, sent a letter to the governor asking for small businesses to be allowed to reopen with restrictions. Now that the governor has announced such a plan, she's planning to reopen Saturday with limitations.
Jessica Crawford, pictured May 8, runs Cotton & Co. Vintage Boutique in Keymar. Crawford, who has been selling online, sent a letter to the governor asking for small businesses to be allowed to reopen with restrictions. Now that the governor has announced such a plan, she's planning to reopen Saturday with limitations. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Carroll County small businesses are developing their plans for reopening, with some limitations, after Gov. Larry Hogan’s Wednesday announcement that some will be allowed to open their doors Friday.

About two months after Hogan issued a stay-at-home order and other actions to mitigate the spreading coronavirus, he announced the initiation, starting Friday at 5 p.m., of the first phase of his plan to reopen Maryland. That entailed lifting the stay-at-home order and allowing manufacturing, retail haircuts and worship services to resume with limitations on Wednesday.

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These limitations includes retailers must operate at 50% capacity and must require social distancing and mask usage.

For A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, the plan is to reopenFriday evening from 5 to 8, with limited capacity in the store itself, to follow the new limitations.

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“We’re going to have hand sanitizer stations right at the front door to use on your way into and out and pass the counter, and everyone will have wear masks to come in,” said Debbie Scheller, owner of the bookstore.

Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, waits for a customer to arrive for their curbside pickup on April 23. She is now planning to reopen her doors May 15 with limitations.
Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, waits for a customer to arrive for their curbside pickup on April 23. She is now planning to reopen her doors May 15 with limitations. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Even though her store’s capacity allows for up to 180 people, Scheller will only be allowing 18 people inside at a time. She said she made the decision after using a social distancing calculator online. Markers on the floor will also help customers stay six feet apart, in accordance with health guidelines.

The bookstore’s play area and train table for children have also been temporarily removed.

While closed, the store was doing curbside pickup, plus delivery and shipping, which they will continue to do for those who don’t feel comfortable, are immuno-compromised or don’t feel inclined to come into the physical store, according to Scheller.

Scheller is still decided on what A Likely Story’s hours will be going forward, but she plans to be open at least from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

The owner of Cotton & Co. Vintage Boutique in Keymar had recently sent a letter to Hogan pleading for him to open small businesses with limitations before he made his announcement Wednesday.

“It’s even more than I was asking for; I was extremely surprised. I didn’t know what to expect,” owner Jessica Crawford said. “I went into his press conference yesterday hoping that he would allow me to at least have 10 people in my store a day and at least allow me to do private shopping events. So I was just extremely surprised and grateful for his choice, and I think that it is the right choice for small business.”

Crawford said Thursday afternoon she was preparing to reopen after Hogan’s announcement Wednesday.

“Our plan at this point is to resume our normal hours of operation; we’re open Friday, Saturday, Sunday weekly from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Crawford said. “We will be having the 50% capacity, per the governor’s orders.”

Even though the boutique is usually open Fridays through Sundays, it will officially reopen on Saturday because the state’s new policy goes into effect late Friday.

Crawford also plans to set up several hand sanitizer stations, put social distancing markers on the floor six feet apart — especially at the checkout area — and require shoppers to wear mask at all times inside the store. To follow the 50% capacity rule, she said they will make sure to limit the amount of people in their store and will use an outdoor patio area so customers will be able to wait comfortably.

Crawford added that she was able to get in touch with customers who play music locally and they’re going to be playing on her store patio, at a safe distance from customers, as they wait.

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Half the capacity for the store is 30 people and, according to Crawford, their normal traffic patterns don’t get that high unless it’s a big sale day, so she expects about 10 to 20 people in the store at a time.

She also plans to continue curbside and online orders.

“There’s going to be a percentage of our customers that still just are not ready to come out and see us in person yet, and we want to make sure that we’re still continuing to be there for them” Crawford said.

By Thursday morning, Westminster barber Joe Mangiapane said he had 24 messages from clients looking to make appointments at Nana and Pop’s Barbershop.

“Things are filling up fast,” said Mangiapane, who has been cutting hair for 38 years. His wife and daughter are out of the shop until after Memorial Day, leaving him alone. He sets up appointments for every half hour.

Since April, he’s been able to offer haircuts to essential personnel — a policy that’s been hard to explain to some of his regular customers who walk in seeking trims.

Another business owner in Westminster has been having a more difficult time preparing to reopen — even though his business won’t be looking to open until September.

Jason Hackney, who owns Hackney Haunts with his wife Sarah, has been having trouble getting access to his haunted house establishment at TownMall in Westminster since the mall has been closed — the state is still not allowing malls to reopen.

“We fully understood everything being closed to the public and the guidelines that were meant to be taken and everything, but the further and further we went along, I talked to mall management,” Jason Hackney said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I know all these other places are open, I just need to go into my space, shut my doors and go about my business, do my work, no interaction with the public, won’t be in any public hallway, nothing like that.’ His response was, ‘The governor said no, we’re not allowed to open.’ ”

Hackney said he knew that the mall wasn’t allowed to be open to the public but that he was allowed to go into his own space. The only response he would get from mall management, though, was “the governor said no,” he said.

He needs to work on some preparations for his haunted house so they can be ready for the Halloween season — given that the mall can be open to public at that point.

“We made an elaborate building schedule to build our props, to get everything in order, it takes months and months and months,” Hackney said. “There’s so many layers; you have to do general building, you have to put your props in, you have to put electronics in, you have to sync everything together, you have to decorate, you have to paint.”

Because Hackney was ahead of his building schedule, he let it go for a few weeks but got to the point where he needed to get to work, he said. In an effort to be able to start prepping his business, Hackney sent an email to the mall after Hogan made his announcement Wednesday, asking if they were allowed to be open so he could enter. He was told no again and that malls were still closed per Hogan’s orders.

Hackney said he decided to call Hogan’s office Thursday and spoke to a representative who said he was allowed to enter his store. At that point he posted about the situation on Facebook.

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Westminster’s mayor and some council members then got in touch with Hackney and the mall’s owner in Texas, and within 30 minutes to an hour Mayor Joe Dominick told him he will be allowed to go into his space and work, according to Hackney.

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“I don’t need to be open to the public, I just need to be in there to work,” he said. “We completely understand the safety guidelines, and this is one of the first steps to getting back to normal. We’re just glad we can get in there and work and do what we like. Hopefully, be able to bring a local form of entertainment to people that is affordable and family friendly.”

Hackney said he should be able to enter his store within the next two to three days.

Mall management could not be immediately reached Thursday for comment.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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