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Safety first as Laurel’s small businesses try to adapt coronavirus restrictions

When Bianca Vazquez signed the lease for her new business Rise Up Nutrition at the end of 2018, she and her co-owners never anticipated they would have to deal with a global pandemic.

“There was no way to prepare,” Vazquez said. “All we can do is adapt to our current reality.”

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While the rest of Maryland is slowly loosening regulations after Gov. Larry Hogan lifted stay-at-home orders on Friday, Prince George’s County has remained closed, with only essential businesses open. The new normal for many of Laurel’s small businesses since the coronavirus pandemic began in March has been figuring out how to keep afloat despite shut doors and no customers.

“We’re probably operating at 30 to 60 percent,” Vazquez said. “So much of our business model operates on the community coming together.”

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The nutrition business can no longer host its running club, book club and leadership classes. The store’s nutritional shakes, teas and snacks are still available for carryout only.

“We saw a big drop initially, but the other businesses on Main Street and our customers are wonderful,” Vazquez said. “We have lots of support.”

Sterling Gallagher, owner of The Crystal Fox.
Sterling Gallagher, owner of The Crystal Fox.(Katie V. Jones / BSMG)

As it is a nonessential business, The Crystal Fox at 311 Main St. has been closed to walk-in customers and no longer offers tarot readings and tea parties. Sterling Gallagher, owner of Crystal Fox, said he depends on online sales and a live Facebook sale every Tuesday afternoon.

“It keeps the door open and I am still making payroll. That’s the important thing,” Gallagher said. “I haven’t let anyone go.”

Gallagher did have a few employees choose not to come in as did Joe Valentino, general manager at Sip at C Street at 24 C St. The coffee shop has been able to offer a full menu for carryout and curbside throughout the pandemic.

“We’re doing okay. Business is down about 50% in general,” Valentino said, of the coffee shop. “Being a smaller operation, it was not too difficult to adjust.”

Judy Ashwell, owner of Rainbow Florist & Delectables, closed her shop at 370 Main St. for three weeks in March. She has since reopened for delivery and pickup, though her storefront featuring chocolates and gift items remains closed.

“I did lose a lot in terms of standing orders . . . churches, restaurants, assisted living places. All of that has stopped,” Ashwell said. “All weddings and things like that are canceled.”

Judy Ashwell, right, owner of Rainbow Florist and Vicki Fritzke, an employee, in 2019.
Judy Ashwell, right, owner of Rainbow Florist and Vicki Fritzke, an employee, in 2019.(Katie V. Jones / BSMG)

Daily business, while down from last year, “is pretty standard,” she said, with orders for birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and “get well soon” bouquets steady. Suppliers, however, are not always able to provide flowers, so she cannot always do bouquets as pictured online.

“They are not 100 percent, but as close as possible,” Ashwell said. “Mother’s Day helped bring business up. When it is safe to do so, obviously we like customers coming in."

The decision to keep Prince George’s County closed, while not easy on the businesses, was the right decision, the owners said.

“Losing money is one thing, losing a life is another,” Gallagher said. “Prince George’s County is right to remain closed. I think it is the right call.”

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“Personally, Prince George’s County has a higher percentage of cases and hospitalizations,” Vazquez said. “Keeping certain things closed makes sense as we learn about vaccines and reliable treatments.”

Vazquez is grateful that businesses are adapting for the “community good."

“I know people are excited for things to reopen,” Vazquez said. “We want to keep our customers safe and our staff, too. As people become more accustomed to the new normal, we’ll see an uptick in business.”

Valentino is happy that Sip and C Street is able to be open and serve the community.

“We’re here to support,” Valentino said. “Hopefully, it passes soon.”

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