After extended closures from the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses owners were eager to get back to work Friday morning.
The newest ordres from Gov. Greg Abbott, allows select retailers, movie theaters, malls and restaurants in Walker County to reopen their doors at 25% capacity. It’s the first phase of the governor’s reopening plan, but many business owners still believe that it is too soon.
“I feel like this may be coming too soon, with the Governor allowing businesses to re-open … (however) for financial security I need to go ahead and do that, I just hope it doesn’t go badly,” Gamer’s Gove owner Todd Graham said.
The card and board game store held a soft opening Friday after catering to only curbside and online ordering over the past month.
“Social distancing and taking all of the precautions is really important, and I kind of want to ease into it to see what kind of capacity we can handle at a given time,” Graham said.
While businesses choosing to open at this time will be following government guidelines for safe operations, many have made their own rules to carry out as well. Gamer’s Grove customers are required to wear face masks and sanitize their hands before entry. A limit on the number of customers allowed in the stores at a time will also be enforced for social distancing.
For long-time downtown family business Ernst Jewelers, they felt that the time was right.
“We were just ready. We haven’t been open, we’re a small family owned business, so we haven’t had any income at all. But we have been continuing to pay off our employees, because we wanted to make sure that they were all taken care of. We wanted to be back in the store again and able to help people,” Ernst Jewelers co-owner Blythe Ernst said.
Ernst believes that Governor Abbott’s phase one plan to re-open businesses during this time is the right move.
“I think people want some good news, they want to be able to get out of their house and continue on,” Ernst said.
As Mother’s Day and graduation inches closer, the Ernst family wanted to make sure that their services were available, ensuring that life’s celebrations are not forgotten during this time.
“Right now it’s important to make people feel special in our lives, and that is important to us. People need to continue on with their lives, we’ll get over this, life will continue after this virus and it’s kind of nice to have a little distraction (like) something good going on,” Ernst said.
Ernst Jewelers noted a slow start to their re-opening on Friday, with not many new customers coming in. However, it will be a slow adjustment for many, as consumers begin to become re-accustomed to leaving their homes and figuring out which businesses are open and which are not.
Huntsville’s oldest diner, Cafe Texan, postponed reopening with phase-one this weekend, however those passing by may still see a familiar face in the window from time-to-time.
“I go up there every morning, make a pot of coffee and read the newspaper,” Cafe Texan owner John Strickland said.
Cafe Texan is one of many businesses across the state that chose not to re-open May 1 as part of the phase-one reopening plan, he will instead wait until the 14th in hopes of being closer to a point where they can welcome more guests at a time.
“We are not going to open on the first, I plan on waiting until maybe the fourteenth when it gives us a little more lee-way … that 25% occupancy doesn’t help me out a bit,” Strickland said. “I need at least 200 customers a day just to hit a break even point, so 25% doesn’t help us out.”
“Our customer base, probably 60% of them, are 60 to 65 years or older, and I don’t feel comfortable right now exposing them in any kind of danger,” Strickland said.
His decision to remain closed is for the safety of his customers and employees, but also to save costs in order to continue to pay full wages to his employees through this time, costing him around $3,000 a week.
If occupancy rates do not rise with phase-two reopening plans on May 18, he will re-open the cafe at that time in an effort to preserve the historic fixture in Downtown Huntsville.
“The cafe has been here forever and I am not going to let it close,” Strickland said.
Sacrificing business for safety is a hard trade-off for many, however Graham notes that despite its short-term losses, social distancing and temporary closures may have actually helped Gamer’s Grove in the long run.
While half of Gamer’s Grove is set up with tables for customers to play card and board games at, which are more socially interactive, in an effort to enact proper social distancing, the area will not be in use for a while. It would be a long-term form of financial loss for the business that relies on gaming events to promote sales.
“I don’t make a whole lot off of the gaming events, the entry fees go back into prizes, but it gets our players buying the products to play in those events,” Graham said.
“It’s definitely going to reduce the number of the collectible cards we sell, like Magic cards. It will reduce the amount we sell because we won’t be having tournaments which is the main reason people buy them and that accounts for probably about 40% of our income, so I definitely expect a big hit in that part,” Graham said.
However, families being home together with nothing to do has sparked an increase of sales for gaming companies, and Graham sees the online store as a future major source of income despite an economic recession.
“This whole thing has been really hard on our business, but one good thing about it is it really influenced us to amp up our online sales, so we’ve been doing that over the last month. It used to be a very small stream of income for us, but we have been getting a really good amount of business online,” Graham said.
“As odd as it sounds, in the long term, (the closure) may end up helping us because it has really helped us establish our online presence,” Graham said.
It also helps supplement slower seasons for Gamer’s Grove.
With a customer base largely composed of college students, a slower summer is expected for the business. While the closures have extended the slow period that the business would typically be facing around this time as the school year would be wrapping up, only the fall will tell Graham more about the future of his business.
“I think my main concern is whether or not the college is going to reopen in the fall. We’ll be able to cut expenses and do whatever we need to do to maintain at least through that point, but in the fall, if the college is still closed, that is going to be really hard on us,” Graham said.
The Texas State University System recently released that they have begun plans to resume in-person classes this fall, however plans are subject to change if the COVID-19 conditions worsen in Texas in the coming months.
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