Georgia businesses reopen and customers start returning, but only time will tell if it's the right decision

Just hours before Georgia’s stay-at-home order was set to expire at midnight Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp extended the emergency rules for residents deemed most at risk from the coronavirus. Now, medically fragile and elderly Georgians will be required to remain inside at least through June 12, 2020, Kemp announced by video posted to his Twitter account.

The mandatory order was lifted for the rest of the population, but Kemp urged all Georgians to stay at home when possible and advised businesses to follow strict social distancing and sanitation rules until May 13.

The guidance seems confusing to many residents, as just one week ago the governor began to reopen the state economy by allowing certain businesses to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. Barber shops, nail salons, bowling alleys, gyms and tattoo parlors were able to reopen last Friday, while movie theaters and dine-in restaurants were allowed to reopen on Monday.

Critics, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and President Trump, opposed Kemp’s decision to reopen the economy without more favorable data. Many business owners have elected to remain closed until they understand more about how to safely reopen, but some took the opportunity to start seeing customers again.

One week into reopening, many small businesses are optimistic, but they admit no one will know if it’s the right decision until further down the line.

A customer sits at the bar as she eats in Moe's Original BBQ restaurant amid the coronavirus pandemic in Atlanta, Georgia on April 27, 2020. - Some Georgia restaurants reopened on April 27, 2020 for limited dine-in service as the state loosened more coronavirus restrictions. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
A customer sits at the bar as she eats in Moe's Original BBQ restaurant amid the coronavirus pandemic in Atlanta, Georgia on April 27, 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Bantam Pub in Atlanta never fully closed when the state shut down on March 24. Owner Tim Lance said his gastropub pivoted to a pickup and delivery model that helped to maintain some business. Now, he couldn’t be happier that guests can dine in. “I've been a self starter and entrepreneur my whole life and it's hard for me to understand kind of staying at home, sitting on my heels,” Lance told Yahoo News. “It's a normal state of businesses to open, but the real qualifier is how safe we can keep our staff. How safe can we keep our guests?”

Safety is the main concern for owners, staff, patrons and residents alike. As part of Kemp’s decision to reopen, he also instituted 39 guidelines for restaurants to meet what he calls “minimum basic operations.” The guidelines include requiring staff to wear masks or face coverings, screening customers and staff for temperatures below 100.4°, staggering shifts and allowing six feet between seats at the bar and between tables.

Lance is committed to ensuring all of these guidelines are followed and more. He’s looking into precautions including purchasing UV lighting that is capable of killing coronavirus. Even still, Lance acknowledges there are critics who believe it’s too soon to reopen restaurants for dining in, and he believes neither stance is wrong. “I don't think there's an objection to either argument,” Lance said. “I don't know. We won't even know who is right about it until much later.”

Atlanta beauty salon managing partner Lester E. Crowell Jr. says business has been steady since he reopened his enormous 13,000 square-foot establishment, Three-13 Salon, Spa & Boutique, last week but Crowell says it’s not about the money for him. “It's depressing to a lot of people to stay home all the time,” he told Yahoo News. “And I think coming out and getting your hair done is a very big therapy treatment. It makes people feel a lot better.”

A stylist wearing a protective mask dries a customer's hair at a hair salon in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, March 24, 2020. Georgia's hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and other nonessential businesses were permitted to reopen on Friday, after Governor Brian Kemp announced earlier this week that he'd ease the state's stay-at-home order. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg
A stylist wearing a protective mask dries a customer's hair at a hair salon in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, March 24, 2020. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers also put out 28 guidelines on how barbershops, salons and spas could reopen safely. Crowell says he was following almost all of the guidelines before he saw the list. He’s instituted new rules for the shop that include having hairdressing stations 12 feet apart (double the requirement by law), checking the temperature of guests and staff upon entering the shop, asking questions of patrons about their exposure to the virus and requiring everyone to wear protective gear.

“We require every guest that comes here to wear a mask,” he said. “We're telling them that when we booked the appointment. Of course all of our employees, when they get their temperature checked every morning, they have to wear gloves and masks too.”

Crowell is pleased with his businesses’ early success since reopening, but he admits that doing so has led to some uneasy feelings. He ultimately believes that he’s doing the right thing. “Are we scared or nervous? And did we have anxiety? Yes we do,” Crowell said. “But [we’re happy] to be doing what we're doing. ... We've been in business for 46 years. That's a long time. And we're a big part of our community. So, you know, I think a lot of people are excited that we're open.”


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