Numerous Louisa County barber shops, beauty salons, campgrounds and religious institutions will be back in operation this weekend. For restaurants and gyms, the immediate future is less certain.
Governor Ralph Northam’s directive to start the first phase of reopening came with detailed guidance for businesses and houses of worship to puzzle over. Nevertheless, there were audible sighs of relief around the county at the prospect of even a limited return to normal.
“We’re grateful but cautious,” said Timothy Chrisman, pastor at Little River Baptist Church in Bumpass. “Our main concern is the safety of our members and of anyone who comes in to worship with us.”
His words were echoed by Leroy Davis, Hopeful Baptist Church pastor, who said that whether fear of the coronavirus is based on reality or perception, as he put it, caution is the word of the day as regular worship resumes. Church services this Sunday will be limited to 50 percent of building capacity, but Davis said he and his congregation are ready.
“We have a detailed plan of best practices,” he said. “What I hear is that some folks may be hesitant to come, so I anticipate we’ll be able to accommodate everyone.”
Hopeful Baptist members can use a phone-in system to report whether they plan to attend church; they press a digit on the phone to indicate how many in their family will come with them. When congregants arrive at the church, they will find hymnals have been replaced with paper copies for them to take home after the service. Every other pew will be kept empty to ensure social distancing and ushers will escort people to their seats.
Chrisman and Davis were among several Louisa ministers who signed a letter to Northam last week urging him to allow houses of worship to reopen.
“I hope that had an influence, though I would be surprised if a state government would tell you it was duly influenced by a group of pastors,” Davis said.
D.D. Watson III, who had to close Razor Kutz in the town of Louisa in March, said he is eager to get back to cutting hair. He had needed a vacation, he said, but this one was a bit longer than he would take normally.
“I feel great,” he said. “I felt like I needed to break away from it, but now it’s time to go back. I’m glad to be able to see my customers again.”
In a phone recording, Becky Sparks, proprietor of Mineral Barber Shop, advised her clientele to bring their face masks (and that she’d be wearing hers) and not to enter the shop sooner than 10 minutes before an appointment.
“We really need to follow the rules so I don’t get shut down,” she implored customers.
Other businesses remain closed, with no clarity about when that will change. The governor has said a second phase of reopening could start within two weeks, but it’s unclear what activities will be allowed.
Fisher’s Fitness, located in the Loudin building on Davis Highway, could technically offer outdoor classes beginning tomorrow. But that’s cold comfort for a 24-hour indoor gym.
“We know how to reopen safely and are ready to do it right now, but need to be allowed,” the business posted on Facebook. “We have already paid out well over $7,000 in rent alone (in two months of the gym being unused), have received no assistance from the state, and we cannot continue to do this forever.”
The gym’s next-door neighbor, Louisa Martial Arts, did not survive the shutdown. Robbie Lillard, who had operated the business with his wife, Summer, cleared out their studio at the beginning of May. Prior to closing, the Lillards had 60 members who came to train regularly.
“My plan was to give the health department time to do some testing, and then let people come out at their own risk, but with health checks,” Robbie said. But the government made it so we really had nowhere to go. We hung on as long as we could.”
Whether the business can resume operations in the future depends on many unknowns, he said. For now, he is banking on a job he took on while he still operated the studio.
Restaurants that have been surviving on takeout orders will be allowed to serve customers outside beginning Friday. But many businesses have minimal space on adjacent sidewalks or patios where they could take advantage.
Michael Kavros, owner of Callie Opie’s restaurant near Lake Anna, does have plenty of outdoor space. But that’s far from the only factor he must consider as he weighs whether to scale up. He furloughed all but two of his 16 full and part-time employees after he closed his dining room in March.
“If I have them come back and they can’t make the tips, what do I do?” he said.
He also isn’t sure how many would choose to return if they have been successful in obtaining unemployment benefits. The $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in April included $600 in additional weekly benefits beyond the amount normally available to unemployment insurance applicants.
Kavros applied for the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans that can be converted to grants if business owners commit to keeping employees on the payroll for eight weeks. He’s been told he’s on a waiting list.
Kavros said one option is to just invite customers to enjoy the outdoor seating while they wait for takeout orders. Until now, he’s been bringing orders out to people as they sit in their vehicles.
Nearby, Coyote Hole Ciderworks said on social media they are excited to move into phase one of reopening.
“Social distancing is a must, so our tables will be spread out and we ask that our patrons not move any tables or seating and adhere to social distancing guidelines,” Chris and Laura Denkers wrote on Facebook. “If you are sick or have been within the last 14 days, please stay home.”