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Government, Politics & Issues

Even Though They Can Reopen, Not All Businesses In Madison County Will

St. Louis-area businesses remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Weeks of reduced income, or none at all, has stretched small businesses thin.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
Some businesses in Madison County are staying closed even though the county government provided guidelines for them to open. Operating outside of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's order could mean they lose their licenses or liability insurance.

Business owners in Madison County are weighing their options after the Board of Health passed guidelines that allow them to reopen.

Those guidelines allow all businesses, including gyms, stores and bars, in the county to reopen at 25% capacity, in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders that close them. 

The decision for some businesses hinged on staying within Pritzker’s phased reopening plan and the law. Pritkzer’s reopening plan won’t let businesses like stores, salons and manufacturing open until May 29 at the earliest. Restaurants and bars have to wait even longer in his plan. 

“I’m not going to do anything that goes against the rules,” said Kathryn Cochran, who owns Victoria's Hair Designers in Edwardsville. “I’ve worked too hard at this business to make a mistake.”

Cochran said the business she has owned for more than 40 years will stay closed until the state says salons can reopen. She added she doesn’t want her salon to be the reason anyone else gets sick. 

There’s also more risk for Cochran because her business needs a license from the state to operate. Her license could be in jeopardy if she opens before the state allows. 

“I can’t take that chance,” Cochran said, adding that she thinks other salons won’t either. 

Madison County’s resolution that lets businesses reopen doesn’t promise that those organizations will retain their license to operate or liability insurance if they defy the governor’s executive order. 

“Until a court of law tells us the governor’s order is not lawful, we’re more or less stuck with it,” said Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons. 

Pritzker’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday but said at his daily briefing that counties that defy his orders could lose funding from the state. 

“There is no consequence the state could impose that is greater than the harm that you will do to your own communities,” he said.

Officials in Collinsville and Granite City are sticking with Pritzker’s orders. They are encouraging businesses to stay closed or consult legal counsel before doing anything that might conflict with the executive order or expose them to liabilities.

Public health considerations

Other businesses in the county are considering public health when they think about reopening. Opening earlier would let restaurants recoup some of the revenue they’ve lost from closing, said Valon Jusufi, who manages the Spring Garden Family Restaurant in Collinsville.

“It does make a difference, but at the same time I don’t want to risk anybody’s life,” he said. “We mostly cater to the older generation.”

Jusufi said he considers the health of his employees, their families and his own family members with underlying health conditions. 

“I know a lot of restaurants and businesses in Madison County heard this, and they’re going to want to open their doors up today,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the best thing for the community as a whole.”

Even some of those who pushed for the county to pass the resolution are keeping their organizations closed for the time being. Danny Holliday, a pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Alton, was on the Madison County committee that solicited ideas for how to reopen the local economy. 

He doesn’t know when his church will reopen for in-person services. For now, Holliday is sticking with remote services.

“I’m 73. I’m black. And I have diabetes,” he said. “A significant number of the members of my church are older also. I don’t have a plan right now for when I would actually reopen.” 

Holliday is more concerned about the economic damage the coronavirus is bringing to Madison County, he said, adding he wants businesses to have the opportunity to start to recover from having to close their doors. 

“For me, it wasn’t mainly about the church; it was about the economy,” he said. “If people don’t have their livelihood, they don’t have money, you have poverty and other issues. Everybody suffers.”

Holliday’s brother, Michael Holliday Sr., D-Alton, was one of the two board members to vote against reopening. Places that reopen too soon will see more COVID-19 cases and deaths, he said during the Madison County Health Board’s meeting Tuesday night.

Pastor Holliday advocated for the county to allow businesses to open after he saw the majority of deaths from COVID-19 in Illinois were concentrated around the Chicago area.

“It made me comfortable that we could safely move forward based on the data, the science and common sense,” he said. “If we can’t get the economy back up, the economic effects can be worse than COVID.”

If COVID-19 hotspots pop up locally, the county will have to make adjustments to businesses’ ability to stay open, Holliday added. 

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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