In Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s address to the commonwealth on Monday, March 23, he ordered all recreation and entertainment centers like bowling alleys, theaters, fitness centers and racetracks closed and outlined strict measures for those “essential businesses” that are to remain open for the foreseeable future.
But what makes a business “essential” exactly? In case you were worried, the Virginia ABC stores qualify and will remain open.
“I want to be clear, essential businesses will remain open,” Northam said in his address. “These are things like grocery stores, pharmacies,and banks. You will still be able to buy food and necessary supplies for you and your family. Restaurants can remain open for carryout, curbside and delivery service only.” He went on to describe the social distancing and cleaning practices to be expected of every business that is allowed to remain open at this time.
Here in Greene County, local business owners are among the hardest hit by increasingly strict business operating guidelines, but many are making the best of it through creativity and innovation in their business strategies.
Jeff Hittinger, owner of the newly opened Octonia Stone Brew Works at the corner of Routes 29 and 33 in Ruckersville, reflected on the rapidly changing economic environment of the past two weeks.
“Last weekend sales were down 50%,” he said. “Before the downturn, we were on track to make what I had projected in sales for this year.” Hittinger has had to take out a small loan just to keep everything running for the time being and expects to have to lay off some of his new staff soon.
He is doing everything in his power to stay open as long as he is allowed to do so, however, by following the CDC guidelines on strict cleanliness and limiting the number of people allowed in the building for proper social distancing. His request to the Virginia ABC was just approved for home delivery as well, and within days the supply of 64 ounce growlers had already run out.
“We have all 12 taps filled and beer ready to be served,” Hittinger went on. “We will do curb side pickup or delivery, just call the brewery. We are opening every evening to accommodate this service and will deliver anywhere in Greene. Inside, we have been sanitizing all surfaces on a regular cycle, and limiting the number of guests.”
“For a business that has only had the doors open for 83 days, if we can make it through this, we will be around as long as Guinness,” Hittinger promised. “I have been thankful for those in the community that have … supported our business.”
You can arrange delivery of beer or food items from Octonia Stone by calling (434) 939-9678.
Murphy’s Coffee & Bagel House is another business that just opened this year in Ruckersville. As of March 19 they were still open for business but had transitioned to all takeout orders, being run through their not-quite-complete drive-thru lane. You can call ahead for pickup at (434) 939-6033. According to staff, a new menu should be rolling out this week with improved pricing to help keep the business going through this time.
For a detailed listing of restaurants in the area with opening schedules and ordering guidelines, check out the In & Around segment on page B4.
Besides restaurants, many local retail businesses are trying to decide what to do amid social distancing regulations and concern for their staff and customers.
Kim Delaney of Kim’s Consignment made the tough decision to close the store for now and work on practicing social distancing.
“Anybody that knows me knows this was a very hard decision to make,” she wrote on Facebook on March 19. “I am an extrovert to the max and will mess everyone, but I feel it’s the responsible thing to do for now.”
Mallory Lamb, owner of Bootville, says business has been slow but that they still have shipments coming in.
“If we’re not there to get the shipments, they go back … so that’s played a big factor. The two girls that work for me have had their hours cut back because we’re so slow, so I know it’s affecting them,” Lamb said. “Right now my plan is to stay open, but it’s changing daily at this point, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Inside the store, the two associates are using Lysol and Clorox on countertops, door handles and bathrooms throughout the day.
“I have the girls (clean) every hour, and when a customer comes in and when they leave,” Lamb said. “Typically during the week, we never have 10 people in the store at a time, so that’s not really an issue for us … more just sanitizing the door handles, cleaning the bathrooms, making sure everything stays nice and clean.”
If you want to support the store, there’s a great deal on gift certificates right now.
“What we’re doing is if you buy a gift certificate, we’re adding 20% to that price,” she said. “So if you buy a $100 gift certificate, we’re writing it for $120. So if people don’t want to come out and shop, they can buy gift certificates and it benefits them, too. We can also deliver locally and the girls will come out to your car and deliver your special orders and things like that, so I’m trying to accommodate the best we can.”
Lamb points out that even if you don’t have extra money to spend on retail purchases right now, even a little bit can help the business keep going until they can be open again in the future.
“I would just say in general, and this isn’t just from my business, but really think about the small businesses,” Lamb said. “Walmart and big chain restaurants and things, they’re going to survive. But small mom and pop restaurants and locally owned businesses … if we’re gone, it’s a huge loss. So I would just tell everybody, even if you don’t want to come out of your house, you can share a post on Facebook, like our page or write a review. Everybody’s in this situation.”
Amy Deane, owner of The Wooly Lam in Ruckersville, said that staying open helps retain a sense of normalcy in a crazy world.
“Every day now we’re waking up and things are changing almost hourly. Everyone is losing their structure and their daily lives, and right now we’re just trying to keep some of our daily life,” Deane said. “Social distancing is our new normal. The things that you normally take for granted daily, like giving someone a hug or shaking their hand and being very friendly, is changed. So, it’s crippling in many ways but it’s devastating to the economy and especially small businesses. There are so many that have already closed; so many that will not make it out of this.”
As for The Wooly Lam, Deane understands that shopping might not be a priority for anyone right now.
“We understand that we’re not a necessity at the moment, however yesterday when I was open, I did have people roaming the store who just found some peace, just to come through here and get a little bit of normalcy and not be in a big crowd. That helps us in the moment.”
As for what Greene County residents can do to help ensure her business remains open through these trying times, Deane asks for your help.
“Greene has a history of standing very strong together in times of tragedy, in times of hardships,” Deane continued. “I don’t feel this will be any different. As one of your local small businesses who have over the years given and supported so many organizations through gift certificates and silent auction items, now we need help.”
Inside The Wooly Lam, staff are cleaning the store every day before they open and disinfecting counters and credit card machines in between every customer. They now have the ability to take online payments through Facebook or over the phone, so that customers can pick out items online and pick them up curbside. They are also offering gift certificates at a 15% bonus value and limiting hours to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
“We also realize we’re not the only business hurting, and people are losing their jobs so we are trying to do what we can yet still make our ends meet,” Deane said. “We have so many local people that this is their secondary income. Some of our vendors are retired and this supplemental income helps them, so when you are spending here, it extends beyond the store to helping people who live in your community.”
Shane Borrelli, Greene County resident and co-owner of The End Games in Charlottesville, has seen a drastic drop in business over the past two weeks as well. For a business that normally thrives on tables packed with players trying out products and enjoying tabletop role playing games (RPGs) or using the store’s play area for social gaming with friends, the social distancing measures have nearly closed the business already.
“We have closed off our 1,000 foot play area until further notice,” Borrelli said. “We have minimal staff on, and before it was mandated we already weren’t allowing any more than 10 customers in at one time.”
Without the play area, The End Games is limited to product sales and is working to move the majority of these online, offering free delivery of any order over $20.
“Every hour we clean the front door, bathroom doors, and fridge handles,” Borrelli continued. “Every night we sanitize the whole store.” With operational hours of noon to 8 p.m. daily, late night games and tournaments have all been canceled and groups that normally met weekly are on hold indefinitely.
“If you need to stretch your legs, you can swing by from noon to 8 p.m. but otherwise we have everything accessible through our online store at theendgames.co,” Borrelli said, hoping people will take the opportunity of being isolated at home to try out some of the many fun and exciting board and card games the store has to offer with the benefit of free shipping. “We also sell gift cards so if you don’t know what you want right now you can save it and help us in the meantime.”
After Northam’s announcement on Monday, Borrelli is exploring the options of new small business loans to be able to continue to pay his staff.
“Being a small business like ours that promotes community, we’ve been making sure everyone is safe during the outbreak and looking forward to being here after (it’s over) with our same crew or more,” Borrelli said.
Small businesses are at the heart of a community like Greene County and Charlottesville, and we all hope these stores and more will continue to be around long after the COVID-19 crisis is over. If you can spare a little money to invest in these hardworking neighbors’ businesses, consider making an online purchase or buying a gift card to use at a later time to make sure that when that time comes, those businesses will still be around.