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Our View: Reopening an important step for small businesses, who must do so safely

Jessica Crawford got her wish, as did numerous other small-business owners in Carroll County and beyond. Now it’s up to all of them to reopen the right way.

Crawford, who owns Cotton & Co. Vintage Boutique in Keymar, wrote to Gov. Larry Hogan and other elected officials, nearly two months after closing up shop at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, when Hogan ordered nonessential businesses closed. In her letter, Crawford proposed the state allow nonessential small business owners to reopen in a limited capacity. “I’m not asking to be reckless,” Crawford told us.

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She spoke for small-business owners everywhere in her letter, saying: “We still owe rent, utilities, fees for our security system, point of sale, bookkeeping software, packaging for the items we’ve been able to sell online, and many other miscellaneous operating expenses.”

On Saturday, a warm, sunny mid-May day, Cotton & Co. was, indeed, open. Hogan cleared the way for her and so many others to get back to business last week when he declared that, as of Friday at 5 p.m., Maryland would enter the first stage of his three-phase recovery plan. That opened the door for many businesses to, well, open their doors, albeit at half capacity.

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The news was lauded by local businesses and elected officials.

“Carroll County is ready to go," Carroll County Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, told us following Hogan’s announcement.

Retail stores that are reopening, as with the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open, will be expected to continue to keep customers apart and require them to wear masks, among other measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed some 90,000 Americans, including nearly 2,000 Marylanders.

Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville, is glad to be able to finally allow customers back in the store, but told us she would be careful about it. Even though her store’s capacity allows for up to 180 people, Scheller said she will only be allowing 18 inside at a time, a decision she made after using an online social distancing calculator.

Make no mistake, that is what is needed from all businesses. The temptation would be try to make up for two lost months as quickly as possible. But following the guidelines is what will keep a huge spike from occurring that could send us back to square one. No one wants another shutdown. The goal is to move into the next phases of the plan as soon as is safely possible.

It’s easy for Maryland residents to look at the headlines and think things are mostly back to normal. It takes a bit more time to digest the “fine print.”

Marylanders are no longer required to stay home, but they are strongly encouraged to do so. Places of worship are again allowed to gather indoors, but only at up to 50% capacity with outdoor services strongly encouraged. Retail stores may reopen at up to 50% capacity, but with curbside pickup and delivery strongly encouraged. Manufacturing may resume, but with multiple shifts recommended. Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in place.

“While this is a great step forward, this is not over by any means,” Wantz told us.

No it isn’t. But an important step was taken this week. Consumers are certainly grateful, though not as grateful as small-business owners.

“There is the fear that you will become irrelevant to your customer and you will be forgotten,” Crawford told us, before restrictions were eased. “I just want to see small businesses survive this.”

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