The state’s Emergency Order that closed non-essential businesses will remain in effect until May 18, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday, but many businesses have already been making plans to reopen as the beginning of the summer season approaches.
The announcement came as no surprise to some, as Massachusetts continues to be a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, even though the governor said the “curve” had flattened somewhat.
The governor appointed a Reopening Advisory Board to come up with a plan to reopen the Massachusetts economy. Led by Lt. Gov. Karen Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, the board will devise rules and guidance for businesses, based on health data and input from a host of stakeholders, including medical professionals, business owners and “Main Streets” across the Commonwealth, among others. Safety is a priority, the governor said.
Businesses are not waiting for those guidelines to be announced. Chambers are fielding calls from members seeking sources for masks, face shields and hand sanitizer among other equipment and many businesses have changed the way they will do business.
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce immediately launched its own reopening task force after the governor’s announcement, “pursuing a safe and industry specific and structured approach,” Executive Director Wendy Northcross said. “We anticipate pent-up demand – reopening would align with our seasonal uptick anyway – but we need to be safe for all.”
The chamber is working to communicate on a regional basis (Cape and Islands) to assure factual information for travel planning purposes and factoring in second homeowners.
“The forecast for the summer really depends on when we can open, and how many have the resources to stay in business,” Northcross added.
Safety is guiding many business plans.
“We have already pre-ordered all our staff masks and protective gear in anticipation of this reopening,” said Shayna Ferullo, owner of Snowy Owl coffee shops in Brewster and Orleans. The Snowy Owl closed both locations early in the pandemic as they were cognizant of their vulnerable, older age customer base. “We are in the process of figuring out the flow of how our staff members will stay apart during hours of operation while serving customers who order online or via the app and at the windows, unfortunately.”
Catania Hospitality Group, which operates restaurants in Hyannis, South Yarmouth and Weymouth and hotels in Hyannis and Sandwich, says their cleaning staff and other employees have been wearing masks and extra cleaning procedures have been initiated. Seating plans will be changed in the restaurants to create more space between tables.
After the Emergency Order went into effect, the business eventually furloughed 75 percent of its workforce as sales plummeted 95 percent, President Bill Catania noted. The restaurants have been offering take-out during the closure.
“We’re unclear about how this re-opening is going to occur,” said Catania. “Will it be by county with fewest amount of cases? By town? Will we have enough time to prepare for whatever these guidelines are and will employees want to come back to work, as some have told me they are getting paid more on the federal and state unemployment than what we have been paying them.”
Orleans Chamber of Commerce has been reaching out to its members since the pandemic began.
“For people who are open, they are trying their best to keep their employees and the public safe,” said Executive Director Noelle Pina. “Those who are not physically open have gotten really creative on how to remain open and keep in contact with their customers via emails, their websites and social media. Now people can start turning their attention to when they will be open and they’ve had to develop, not just a Plan B, but multiple plans.”
Pina has seen an uptick in interest for eCommerce if a business didn’t offer that option already. The chamber’s website has a resource center with a spreadsheet giving the current status of businesses in town and tools for businesses. Another tab lists restaurants open for takeout as well as those that are closed.
Most businesses she’s been in contact with are getting protective gear, signage and if possible, reconfiguring spaces in anticipating of reopening. “We’re not waiting for the government to tell us what to do,” she said. “The Massachusetts Restaurant Association and Retailers Association and SCORE have been great giving businesses guidelines, tools and resources.”
The Snowy Owl is planning to reopen its doors in both locations for the near future as “grab-and-go,” and will keep the doors of both Chatham and Brewster locations closed to the public.
“We will be taking orders via phone apps and via window service only. We won’t be allowing customers into our spaces and won’t be allowing for self-service of condiments, like sugars and creamers,” Ferullo explained. “This will allow for maximal distancing between our staff and the public and reduce contact with shared surfaces. Fortunately, both of our locations have outdoor spaces that can be enjoyed. And, therefore, it feels best to keep the public outside of our space entirely and create a clear protocol for these two avenues of ordering that minimizes contact while optimizing flow and safe service.”