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West Virginia small business owners face tough decisions when state reopens

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West Virginia is among the states that are beginning to relax restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, allowing some non-essential businesses to reopen starting this week.

On Monday May 4, West Virginia entered the second week of Governor Jim Justice’s six-week reopening plan, which he calls “the return. “During the second week, businesses with fewer than 10 employees, hair and hair salons, dog care services and outdoor restaurants are allowed to reopen. Churches and other places of worship are allowed arrange funerals and other services with limited gathering sizes.

The coronavirus has taken a big toll on the economy, and while some establishments in West Virginia are anxious to reopen, others remain cautious, fearing the resurgence of a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the state.

The tough choices faced by West Virginia business owners will soon be shared by many neighboring states, which are also reopening slowly. Retail stores in Ohio will be able to partially reopen on May 12. Starting May 20, Kentucky retailers will also do so.

Difficult calls

Projections of daily coronavirus cases and deaths have increased since states across the country have announced plans to reopen. According to internal documents obtained by the New York Times, the The Trump administration has risen his expected daily death toll of 70 percent, reflecting 3,000 daily deaths in the country as of June 1. The White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere denied the report.

For business owner Lori Whited in Boone County, these increased projections are enough to keep her doors closed, by choice. Whited owns The Boone Magnolia Boutique, a store that sells clothing, household items and accessories made by regional artisans.

The Boone Magnolia boutique prepares orders for dispatch.

“We really suffered a loss; some of my artisans cannot sell online or on a web page, ”she said. “But, I don’t want to risk exposing ourselves to a lot of people who come. Many of our customers work in the health field, and they travel from all over the state, to the Tri-State area to come see the store. “

Whited said she doesn’t plan to open until July, adding that she would like to see if COVID-19 cases skyrocket in the region after the state’s six-week reopening plan.

“I was ready, you know, to be closed for at least three months,” she said.

In Charleston, the owners of the Kin Ship Goods store also choose to keep their store closed, despite the economic consequences of the closure.

The store has put its employees on leave and owners Dan Davis and Hillary Harrison are not paid. Harrison said she didn’t think there was enough advice from public health officials to protect employees or customers if the store were to reopen.

“It does not yet appear that there are protocols in place in the country,” she said. “There is no test or contact tracing in place, we should see the numbers here stay low and not increase once things start to reopen.”

The Later Alligator wheel-based restaurant takes a similar approach. Although it is possible to increase the service to include outdoor seating, the restaurant will remain take-out and deliver only for the moment.

“I am not prepared to further endanger our staff in the name of money,” said spokesman Mitchell Haddad.

Subsistence for life

However, not all businesses are willing to remain closed voluntarily.

The Heart Strings gift store in Mercer County hopes to open on Wednesday, May 6, said co-owner Tammy Crews. The business is family-run, but located inside the Princeton Community Hospital, so reopening is a more extensive process.

“We can’t just reopen our doors automatically because two-thirds of our business comes from outside the hospital, not just hospital staff,” said Crews. “We bring a lot of traffic to the hospital, which is not a bad thing under normal circumstances, but at the moment we are trying to make arrangements to be able to serve these people in other ways.”

But, said Crews, even with curbside delivery and online orders, his business has suffered a significant financial blow that is not sustainable. As soon as the hospital approves the reopening of the gift shop, Crews said it plans to open and enforce social distancing guidelines with customers.

Barber Chad Stradwick, pictured here before the pandemic.

For Chad Stradwick, owner of Stade’s Fade Cave, reopening his hair salon in Wheeling is less a matter of choice than of survival.

“Everyone is telling us that we have to get away from society, but I have to work because I have had no income since March 18. I have absolutely no financial help,” said Stradwick.

Although Stradwick is reopening, he said he was taking certain precautions, including allowing only one customer in his shop at a time and requiring that his customers wear masks.

He added that his main fear at reopening is the health of his family.

Stradwick said he would feel guilty if he fell ill with his immunocompromised wife and son, but felt that he had no choice but to go back to work financially.

“Family safety is the most important thing. But my family has to eat, you know? he said. “Do I want them to be safe or do I want them to eat?” Like why should I have to choose this? “

Caitlin Tan, Corey Knollinger and Kara Lofton from partner station WVPB contributed to this story.

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