Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that some restrictions on restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, grooming and entertainment businesses will “likely” end on Friday, May 15, a week later than originally mandated (see story here). The date is contingent on several public health indicators, the governor said.
Although many restaurants and other food service businesses have been able to conduct some sales by offering takeout and delivery, dining rooms have been closed throughout the state since March 24; hair salons have been forced to close altogether.
Neal Wavra, owner of Field & Main Restaurant in Marshall, said he is taking a cautious approach to returning to pre-pandemic operations. As far as immediate plans for the restaurant, the governor’s order “doesn’t change anything at the moment. We’re going to maintain course.”
The restaurant’s operations had been retooled toward a takeout model, he said, and there would be a significant investment required to shift business operations back toward the dining room. “A percentage opening is not in our interest at this point,” he said of the possibility of limited dine-in service.
“We learned there is a viable business with the ‘to-go’ model,” and until there is a compelling business argument to reopen, “we’re not really going to rush to reopen.”
He also expressed concern about the restaurant’s front-of-house employees, currently furloughed during the pandemic. Bringing them back only part-time would mean they could no longer receive unemployment benefits, he said, and the income they could earn working limited hours – with limited customers – at the restaurant would be “not enough to subsist on.”
He also expressed concern about the pandemic itself, and the strain it would put on the business to reopen too soon, only to have to close if the pandemic worsened. “My concern is that we may not be out of the woods yet with COVID. Even if it was OK [to reopen completely], and then there was a relapse, that would be really difficult.”
Alexandria Scadden, the general manager of Morais Vineyards & Winery in Bealeton, expressed similar caution about opening for normal operations too soon. The owners are waiting for more information about government guidelines – and consulting with other local wineries – before making any definite decision.
“There’s a chance we may wait until phase two [of the governor’s plan]” to reopen the tasting room, she said, emphasizing planning was still in the early stages. Since March, the winery has been offering sales of bottles through pickup or shipping.
She expects wineries will be “flooded with people” after reopening, and that ensuring the safety of staff and customers was the priority. “Most likely – this is not official – we won’t offer tastings when we reopen,” she said, instead speculating that Morais may only offer sales of glasses and bottles at first, making physical distancing easier to maintain.
Wineries in the area are working together, she said. “We’re trying to present a united front.” And ultimately, “We’re very eager to have everyone back.”
Tom Kee, owner of The Rail Stop Restaurant in The Plains, said on Tuesday that no specific guidance had yet come down from the governor’s office or the department of health.
The restaurant has been offering takeout service since March. “I know we’ll be kind of cautious” before making the decision to reopen, he said, adding he would consult with his staff before making a decision.
“We’ll probably end up shooting for Friday [May 15]” to open the dining room, he said, though he is still in the process of determining exactly what that will look like.
Casey Ward, the owner of Molly’s Irish Pub in Warrenton, was not yet certain whether the dining room will reopen on May 15 or at a later date. “We’re ready to get back to work,” he said. “Hopefully some good guidance comes from the health department.”
The restaurant has been closed entirely since the beginning of April, and he planned to reopen for takeout orders on May 12 anyway. “We’re just walking that line of trying to get back to work, but wanting to do it safely,” he said.
A hairdresser at a Warrenton hair salon – who spoke on the condition that they and their employer remain anonymous – said that their salon would not open on May 15, despite pressure from some clients to do so.
The hairdresser expressed concern that if the salon opens right away, cases of COVID-19 could surged, endangering the salon’s employees and clients. Regardless, the hairdresser said, there is still the potential the governor could change the time frame for reopening.
Some clients have threatened to drive to salons in other states that have relaxed restrictions. “What do you say to that?” the hairdresser lamented, adding that they have agreed on limited occasions to travel to a client’s house to perform cosmetology services – which is permitted by Executive Order 53. The hairdresser said that even then, there was a concern about the increased chance they would contract the virus.
The hairdresser said workers in the industry will suffer financially even when salons open. “We are not going to be able to make the money we used to make,” they said, citing the need to open at first only for appointments and have a limited number of clients in the salon. A single hairdresser will not be able to have two clients at once, which is normally standard practice.
The hairdresser added there was still a great deal unknown about what specific practices would be permitted, and how that would affect hairdressers’ income. For instance, if the state banned hair washing and blow drying during the reopening phases, revenue would drop significantly.
One of the most difficult aspects of this time, they said, has been knowing so little about what life will look like going forward. “I don’t think we’re going to get any certainty.”
Reach Coy Ferrell at firstname.lastname@example.org