Local businessowners contemplate reopening As Scott opens 'spigot,' area retailers seek ways to safely accommodate customers

As Gov. Scott reopens Vermont retailers, social distancing rules will remain in effect. Photo by Kelly Sikkema for Unsplash.

By Evan Chadwick
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With Vermont exceeding expectations in containing the spread of Covid-19, Gov. Phil Scott has consistently turned the “economic spigot” a little more each week. Although the loosening of restrictions has already allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen in a limited capacity, the guidelines that businesses are required to follow continue to restrict the resumption of normal business operations.

In his most recent release, Scott announced that retail operations would be allowed to resume business as of this past Monday, May 18, with an anticipated Friday, May 22 reopening of inns and hotels. Although this may spell some relief, the “business as usual” mantra remains far from achievable.

Retail operations will see their business limited to 25 percent of their maximum capacity, while inns will share a similar restriction while also limiting guests to those who either live in Vermont or who have quarantined locally for at least 14 days.

The restrictions will have a diverse impact on local businesses, as they try to adjust to “the new normal,” which is a far cry from early 2020 when many businesses were seeing a significant uptick in their bottom line.

Local retailers test the waters

For some, the impact of allowing the transition from curb-side only to walk-in customers will be minimal. “Frankly, I am more worried about Route 11 reconstruction than opening the doors for customers,” says Vince Annunziata, manager of the Vermont Butcher on Main Street in Londonderry. “Because of our essential status, we have been able to keep on all of our employees and have been wildly busy.”

Annunziata’s retail space, which is less than 50 square feet, has never been conducive to large groups of walk-in traffic, and shop employees will be cautious in implementing policies to ensure that their customers are safe even when they decide to fully open their doors.

Nancy Pennell readies her shop on Monday for a limited opening this week.

“We are waiting for more straight-forward direction from the state without having to decipher on our own,” says Annunziata. “When we get this direction and feel that it is safe again to allow customers in the store, it will likely start out with limiting our visitors to one person at a time.”

Nancy and Hugh Pennell, owners of Smokeshire Design, anticipate a similar impact on their retail store on Route 103 in Gassetts, which plans to open to customers this Thursday. “Our opening will be business as usual, if there is such a thing these days,” says Nancy Pennell. “I will be the only employee in the store and will wear a face mask, with hand sanitizer located at the door. I do not see the 25 percent maximum occupation being an issue for us, as we only see small groups at a time anyway.”

While certain retail operations may be able to resume some form of normalcy with the recent state directives, other businesses have and anticipate continuing to feel a more significant impact. “It has been pretty bleak for our diner,” says Tammy Clough, who along with her husband Mike, have owned Londonderry’s Mike and Tammy’s Main Street Deli, a restaurant and convenience store for 14 years. “Our restaurant is still unable to open except for take-out and our retail store will resume their standard business hours. We feel it is important to keep some normalcy in the community.”

Clough has stated that when the governor does give the order to resume in-person restaurant services — which she hopes will be on June 1 — that the implementation of further sanitation practices and a revised business model of keeping things simple will allow her restaurant to adequately serve its patrons. “We see a light at the end of this tunnel,” says Clough. “We want to be here for our community.”

Lodgings will have to wait their turn

Beyond the reopening of retail operations, Gov. Scott also indicated that hotels and inns would be able to open their doors to guests starting on Friday, May 22. The limitations on facilitating such transactions are quite extensive, such as limiting guests to Vermont residents, those who have already quarantined in the state for 14 days, and essential workers.

The Smith family, owners of the Rowell’s Inn, look forward to a limited reopening. Telegraph file photo.

Inns and hotels are also only allowed to house 25 percent of their maximum occupancy and can only offer take-out food service. For Rowell’s Inn owners Christina and Jared Smith, who purchased the Andover bed and breakfast and restaurant in late 2018 and finally opened in February of this year, the limitations make opening their doors impractical.  “There is a lot of gray area right now,” says Christina Smith, who has limited their operation to take-out food for its customers. “ Our customer base is primarily leisure guests traveling from out-of-state. We don’t see them quarantining in Vermont for 14 days and then coming to our inn to stay.”

Regardless of when and how business operations resume, the unifying sentiment of the local businesses is that they are grateful for the local support they have received and hope that through the navigation of this crisis, they will continue to come closer together.

“We want people to know that we, along with other businesses, are here for them,” says Pennell. “Don’t go to Amazon to purchase items you can locally. Continue to support our local stores and merchants.”

For the Smiths, the local support has bolstered their spirits knowing that they have a base of people who have regularly come out to support them. “We are so grateful to our fantastic locals who have regularly supported us these last few months,” said Smith. “We couldn’t endure this without them.”

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About the Author: Originally from Rochester, Vermont, Evan Chadwick is a practicing attorney who lives in Brattleboro with his family. He is a 2007 graduate of Keene State College and currently coaches the boys' varsity basketball team at Bellows Falls Union High School.

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