Business Owners In The Metro East Feel Pressure To Reopen
As economic activity resumes in the St. Louis region, business owners in the Metro East are feeling pressure to reopen even though they can’t until at least next week.
Nonessential businesses and manufacturing, barber shops, salons and retail stores will likely be able to reopen in Illinois after May 29, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased reopening plan. Bars and restaurants in the Metro East can only continue offering delivery or takeout until the end of June.
The patchwork of plans to reopen the region’s economy is leaving many business owners in the Metro East feeling left out as they watch their customers go across the river to Missouri because those areas are now open.
“We can’t provide what our citizens need,” said Roger Wigginton, who owns Don Rodgers Ltd., a men’s and women’s clothing storein Belleville. “The playing field is just so uneven.”
Don Rodgers’ customers comefrom across the bistate region, he said. The forced closures put southwestern Illinois at a disadvantage, especially now, Wigginton said.
“We’re going into the Memorial Day holiday,” he said. “For retail and business, that’s a big deal. Everybody around us is going to be running huge sales, except for Illinois.”
Wiggington is also on Belleville’s City Council and predicts a large budget shortfall for the city if its retail engine cannot restart immediately. He said he’s upset he was forced to close to the public when larger stores were able to stay open under Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
“If Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens can be open and doing business without killing people, why can’t small businesses?” Wigginton said. “Instead of us being the last ones given the opportunity to open, we should have been the first ones, because we never have 50 people in our store.”
Getting ready to open
Other business owners in the area are also feeling their patrons’ desire to get out and resume their lives from before the pandemic.
“Not only are they calling us, but we’re here getting prepared — changing racks and cleaning — and people are coming to our door on the daily trying to get in,” said Angela Harris, owner of EdgyChic Boutique in Fairview Heights and Florissant.
Harris has had to turn away customers because neither store is open to the public yet, even though she could have opened her Missouri location on Monday. Since then, she’s heard from eager Metro East residents who can’t wait any longer.
“They are calling, looking for us to open Missouri, because they can’t shop in Illinois right now,” she said. “Believe it or not, people are ready to shop.”
For now, Harris is comfortable staying closed a little longer since she’s still making money from online orders and curbside pickup. She plans to open her Florissant store on May 28 but doesn’t know when the one in Fairview Heights will reopen.
The biggest concern for Harris is protecting her customers and employees from the coronavirus, she said.
“The fact is I do serve the black community. It is a concern, and that’s why we are gradually opening,” Harris said about African Americans who are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates. “I keep going back and forth, am I going to do appointment only?”
Harris said she’ll require masks, clean the store more frequently than before the pandemic, give employees face guards and institute other safety measures.
Bars waiting even longer
“Financially are we taking a hit? Of course,” said Anthony Michael Bond, owner of Jazzy 159, a bar and lounge in Fairview Heights. “Our business is a social business. The sooner we can open, the better.”
Bond won’t be able to reopen his club until the end of June, as long as the region continues to see decreased COVID-19 transmission and hospitalization rates. That extra delay adds obstacles for Bond because he’ll have to go at least another month without any revenue.
“We’ve got a half-million-dollar business that we’ve got to run,” he said. “The longer those doors stay closed, the harder it will be to jumpstart. Bills are expected to be paid, and they’re not being wiped away.”
Bond said he’s trying to stay on top of expenses and pay as much as he can, but he’ll need to eventually fully reopen to stay financially viable.
“Jazzy 159 operating at 25% or 50% does not allow us to take care of our financial obligations,” he said. “Numbers drive our success.”
And, just like Harris, Bond is balancing the need to reopen with keeping his patrons safe.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends and family to this COVID-19,” he said. “I am spending a lot more time ensuring we do the things we need to do before we open our doors.”
Bond added he’s confident his customers will return and work with him to ensure everyone remains safe.
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid
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