As an owner of a small business, Ashleigh Derby has had to make decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic she couldn’t have imagined.
“I would have never thought in a million years I’d have to make these decisions, ever. Let alone in the first year of being open,” said Derby, who owns Dot and Dash Boutique in Cedar Rapids, 420 12th Ave SE.
“Everybody’s businesses are so different. There’s a lot of small businesses that are struggling with decisions and trying to tread lightly and figure out what’s working and what isn’t working.”
On March 26, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered the closure of retail stores. These restrictions were lifted in Linn County on Friday, May 8. Retail stores across the state are now able to reopen at 50 percent of their maximum occupancy capacity. Soon restaurants, salons and other businesses will be faced with similar decisions on whether or not to reopen after more restrictions are lifted on Friday, May 15.
While the retail restrictions were in place, Derby turned to online sales, using a system she was able to set up about two weeks before she had to close her brick and mortar store. Dot and Dash was shipping orders and allowing curbside, no-contact pick-up.
“But because it was so new, a lot of people didn’t know that I had moved online,” Derby said. “A lot of people don’t even know who I am still. So with 99 percent of my regular business coming from walk-in traffic, it’s really taken a toll on numbers and sales. So that’s been kind of eye-opening. As time has gone on, the word has gotten out a little bit more that I do have an online store, so I’ve been able to at least generate some sales that way.”
Even though she was given the green light to open her doors, Derby has decided to let customers in the store by appointment only, so they feel safe while shopping. Derby said opening by appointment also gives her the ability to take her time cleaning surfaces and ensure that people won’t be standing around waiting for a fitting room.
In addition to cleaning, Derby said she’s wearing a mask and will have hand sanitizer out. She’s recommending that her customers wear masks but is not requiring it. She mentioned that because it is just her and another customer in the store, with no other employees, she will be able to practice social distancing.
To help local businesses with their decision, both Linn County and the City of Cedar Rapids have posted business guidance on their websites. The city’s reopening toolkit includes guidance for a variety of facilities, including retail, entertainment, restaurants and salons.
Linn County Public Health’s Clinical Services Supervisor Heather Meador acknowledged the “hard decision” business owners are faced with regarding whether or not to reopen.
“We encourage business owners and organizations to carefully consider their decision to reopen and to not feel pressured if they are not ready,” Meador said during a LCPH press conference last week. “If you decide not to reopen at this time, that is OK. We know that this is a hard decision for many businesses as you look to protect your employees and to protect the public.”
“We want to remind you that reopening does not mean that you no longer need to worry about COVID-19 in the community. We continue to see community spread of COVID-19 in Linn County.”
But reopening is not possible for all local businesses. Della Viti announced earlier this week it will permanently close. The coffee, wine and whiskey bar was located across the street from NewBo City Market.
“The public health emergency declaration, responding to COVID-19, has forced the realization of our worst fears in an already challenging time,” according to the Facebook post. “Conditions now, and for the foreseeable future, make us unable to see a successful path to reopening.”
Other Cedar Rapids businesses have decided to ignore Reynolds’ timeline for reopening, including a barbershop and a fitness center.
KCRG reported that when Custom Fitness reopened last Friday, owner Jason Bailey was letting members walk in and work out whenever they wanted to. Until Friday, May 15, fitness centers can only reopen if they do so by appointment. Starting Friday, they can reopen at 50 percent capacity.
On Tuesday, May 12, Cedar Rapids police issued Bailey a simple misdemeanor citation for a department of health violation. Bailey is expected to make a court appearance on June 25 and could face a fine of up to $625.