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St. Louis Businesses Can Start To Reopen May 18, But Many Aren’t Ready

Taken on 4-22-20 amid local stay at home order
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis regional officials are relaxing public health restrictions to allow businesses to reopen. But the owners of some businesses, including MoKaBe's, say they plan to wait a little longer.

Updated at 3:40 p.m. , May 6, with comment from St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

St. Louis and St. Louis County will start easing up on coronavirus public health restrictions on May 18, allowing businesses to reopen with some restrictions.

Any St. Louis County businesses wanting to reopen will be required to make its employees wear face masks. County Executive Sam Page announced that mandate at a Wednesday morning press briefing. He plans to release more details and rules in the coming days.

“A slow, responsible, and measured and deliberate reopening can be done, as long as we maintain social-distancing; we limit crowd sizes; and we all wear masks,” Page told reporters.

Page, a Democrat, said businesses will have the right to refuse service to any customers who are not covering their faces.

“We are not going to be in the space of policing the general public [to] wear a mask. It will be strongly, strongly encouraged. It is certainly prudent,” Page said, adding, “But businesses, I believe, who do not have employees wearing masks will be policed more frequently by their customers than us.”

Page did not give specifics on what types of businesses will be able to open May 18 or what other steps businesses will have to take beyond wearing masks. 

“We must get our economy going again and we understand that, but our first priority will always be to save lives, to protect the health and welfare of everyone in our community. And that’s how we’re going to drive this question moving forward,” Page said.

Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page describes his decision to begin reopening the local economy during a press briefing Wednesday morning.

He does not expect a mass rush of businesses swinging their doors open or customers flocking to them.

“We know that not everyone is going to rush. Many people in our community are not yet ready to start moving about more. They're going to be much more cautious,” he said, “and we expect that, and we think that's reasonable.”

Page said controlling the pandemic is beginning to shift from large-scale isolation to “a more measured public health strategy” through identifying, tracing and containing hot spots.

The county executive said further relaxation or tightening of social-distance orders will be driven by data, such as a drop — or sudden increase — in the number of hospitalizations and acute cases of COVID-19.

Later this week St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson is expected to add specifics to new guidelines for the city, which is also scheduled to ease public health restrictions May 18. The Krewson and Page administrations are working together on rules and timelines.

Bars and restaurants will likely be included on the list of businesses that can reopen on May 18, Krewson said during an afternoon Facebook Live briefing. But, she added that salons and beauty stores are “up in the air.”

Krewson said customers should expect also to see plexiglass dividers separating them from cashiers. 

“We’re entering a period of time where we’re going to have another time of rapid change and the thing we’re going to have to remember is that change comes with some risk,” Krewson said. “And we don’t want to blow the gains we’ve made.”

Business owners weigh risks of reopening

Samuel Stewart has been waiting to reopen his Tower Grove South barbershop, Professional Cuts & Styles, for more than a month. 

Plagued by issues with filing for unemployment and federal loans, Stewart hasn’t brought in any income since the pandemic hit St. Louis. But over the course of two decades in the industry he’s built up a long client list, and customers are eager to schedule their first haircut in weeks.

Stewart said he plans to reopen the first day he’s allowed. 

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since we stopped doing business, so as soon as the word gets out that we’re open I guarantee you’ll see a crowd at our business.”

Stewart said he plans to take the same safety precautions he implemented in March — frequently wiping down surfaces and requiring stylists to use gloves and masks during haircuts.

But many business owners aren’t rushing to reopen.

Mo Costello, owner of MoKaBe’s coffeehouse near Tower Grove Park, said she’ll wait until at least the end of the month to start offering dine-in service. 

“I think it’s too quick,” she said. “We’re going to continue to put people over money because that’s most important. And we’ll gently move forward when it feels as safe as possible.”

Costello said she’d like to see a two-week decline in coronavirus cases before she and her employees would be comfortable enough to allow customers inside the cafe. 

The coffeehouse has offered curbside pickup for weeks, but it’s brought in only a fraction of what she usually makes during the busy season.

Down the street, Mary Hennesy said she won’t be reopening the boutique she co-owns, Urban Matter, any time soon. She currently offers online ordering and pickup, but that’s only bringing in about half her normal business.

“We have a lot of little things, so that’s a concern. How do you possibly wipe everything down after each person has touched it or breathed on it?” she said. 

Hennesy said she likely won’t reopen until at least early June — and even then she will need to limit the number of customers who enter the store. As a sensory-driven business, she said she wants to make sure it’s not only safe but enjoyable for customers to re-enter her shop.

“If I wanted to be an online store I would have been an online store. I want to be a store that people come in, and they have a really great experience,” she said. “It's not just about things on the shelf.” 

Business owners like Hennesy will decide for themselves when it’s safe enough to reopen. St. Louis regional officials will provide their rules and recommendations for doing so this week.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.