22 May Reopening Texas during COVID-19: Are we Ready?
As Texas, and many other states, continue with their plans to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are all met with so many questions. Are we ready to open? Is it safe yet? Have we met the requirements to do this safely? While most of us who are able to work from home, are simply inconvenienced with having to stay home without the luxuries of getting our hair and nails done, enjoying a cocktail at a bar or restaurant or meeting with a friend at a local coffee shop, the implications of these closures for the health & safety of the general public on small businesses have been devastating.
Texas was declared a State of Disaster back in March and Governor Abbott had issued orders for closures of all businesses that would not fall under “Essential business”. That meant that any retailer that did not provide essential items, beauty & wellness services, fitness centers, bars & restaurants, and many others were to close. Bars and restaurants were allowed to provide curbside or delivery, but many chose to completely close to ensure the safety of their employees. The reopening of Texas was set to happen in phases beginning in May 1st, so as long as we followed National guidelines. Mind you, these guidelines have been somewhat ambiguous and were even left up to the discretion of each state.
Photo courtesy of Bohemian Gemme
Although Acts like the PPP (Payment Protection Plan) and the SBA Small Business Loans were meant to help, many businesses and entrepreneurs were either rejected, did not qualify, or never even received a response from their applications. “It’s been a struggle. I didn’t even qualify for Unemployment,” said Dominic Alonzo, a self-employed hairstylist in San Antonio. “I have bills to pay and I can only go so long without working, and living off savings. I have to work.”, stated Alonzo. Another small beauty business owner, Harman Kaur, of Threading and Spa by Harman told us, “I haven’t worked for 2 months, I didn’t get unemployment, no PPP check, and no loans.” When asked if any assistance was provided, Kaur stated, “I didn’t get any help from the government because I run my own business and that’s just sad.” Many beauty industry business owners, like Alonzo and Kaur have had to adapt and make the best out of this situation, so they focused on contactless deliveries of hair and skincare kits, virtual consultations and even expanding their sales inventory. Both are happy to be reopening this week with limited customers, by appointment only and enhanced sanitary and safety precautions.
Photo courtesy of Threading & Spa by Harman
Retailers have taken a huge hit as well, and though online sales were a viable option the transition wasn’t as easy for all retailers if the main focus of their business was in-person contact, like Hello Tallulah, a vintage clothing boutique located in the heart of the Deco District in San Antonio, TX. “From the start, I’ve been adamant about my shop selling primarily as brick and mortar. I want my shop to make people happy and there’s nothing like pursuing and trying on, especially in a shop full of color and vintage treasures. I wasn’t immediately ready for online sales and being closed definitely hurt my business. I scrambled to get supplies and start taking photos. Thankfully, my customers have been supportive as much as they can and bought items online or gift cards for the future. My business advisor Crystal Darby, of the SBDC (the UTSA Small Business Development Center), has helped me navigate financial aid that will help Hello Tallulah survive this pandemic.”, said shop owner Kristina Uriegas-Reyes.
Kristina Uriegas-Reyes. Photo Courtesy of Hello Tallulah
As phase 2 of the reopening of Texas is upon us, many are asking if we are ready. Lifting the restrictions of businesses and public spaces did have State officials and health experts saying they want to see expanded testing, tracking contacts of people who had the virus, improved treatment options, and vaccine development when they consider moving on to the next step of the reopening process. Many have not met the federal guidelines on how to reopen, including a 14-day “downward trajectory” of cases. So the question still stands, how are we ensuring a safe reopening when the numbers are against us?
Boutique owner Florence Barrera, who’s shop, Bohemian Gemme, is located in Southtown has been open for the last 2 weeks, with restrictions. Barrera says, “We are complying with the city’s ordinances. In addition, we are requiring all customers to wear a face mask or some type of face-covering when they enter the store. We also provide hand sanitizing wipes to every customer and are frequently disinfecting surfaces which include doorknobs, checkout counter, and displays. We’ve also added a local pick up option for any online shopping.” Others, like InBalance Alamo Ranch, a fitness studio, are placing strict guidelines, limiting their capacity to 25%, increasing their sanitizing between classes, requiring members to wear face coverings while maintaining more than 6 feet of distance and still offering virtual fitness class options for members who have underlying conditions that prevent them from leaving their homes or simply don’t feel comfortable in group settings yet.
Monica Zapata. Photo courtesy of InBalance Alamo Ranch
“I do feel that some places are ready to reopen during the pandemic, as long as they’re following the CDC guidelines and they’re committed to following the procedures without exceptions,” expressed Monica Zapata, franchise owner of InBalance Alamo Ranch. “I’ve questioned reopening, myself. I do have a designated customer base, though. They aren’t strangers walking in at this point, so I felt good about this step. Taking care of my team is important to me, too, so this was not an easy decision.” Zapata emphasized that for her, this was more than about the money. Her business did take a significant loss without new members signing up and she recognized that it would take time to recover financially, “A lot of the members aren’t coming in just to hit their fitness goals. They come in because of the bonding, the community we’ve built and we nourish those relationships. I know for a fact that what my studio provides help to these people in mind and body.”, said the fitness instructor.
For new business owners, like Axelle Francine-Parker, who recently celebrated the one year Anniversary of Le Petit Med Spa in San Antonio and the opening of her second location in Paris, closing down both locations was especially difficult. “I don’t think anyone is ready for this kind of unique situation, but as far as we’re concerned we implemented strict health protocols to protect our guests and team to the best of our ability at Le Petit Med Spa. We reopened May 19th, both in San Antonio and Paris”, Francine-Parker told us exclusively. For 2 months, having to cover the operation costs of 2 locations without having any clients has been difficult, especially when it came to taking care of staff, but they are happy to be reopening this week with strict protocols. “Our Estheticians wear shoe and hair covers, disposable aprons, gloves, face masks, and shields. We have disposable sheets and sleepers for everyone. Guests are taken one by one into the spa, and we space treatments very well to have time to disinfect everything before the arrival of the next guest. We posted a video on our Instagram account about our new protocols. Our clients really appreciated seeing how we handle this pandemic in order to decide if they are ready to come back or not.”, affirmed the spa owner. More of their guidelines can be found on their website.
Axelle Francine-Parker. Photo courtesy of Le Petit Med Spa
Whether the small business owners of Texas are opening for business or waiting to see the results of Phase 2, one thing they all agree on is the fact that we need to all abide by the guidelines to protect ourselves and others, especially those who are most vulnerable. The general population will not feel safe until there is a vaccine that is proven to prevent the spread and that can take up to 18 months. Experts have said that it may take up to 2 years from now to return to normal and many are preparing for this possibility, like Katrina Aleman of The Stellar Case Events and Rentals. “I do believe that our larger gatherings and events will persevere… it may just take a little longer than we would all like.”, says Aleman. Whatever the future holds, we have yet to know, but one thing is for sure, we are resilient. This too, shall pass.
Fashion Week SATX 2019, Look Local Night. Photo via The Stellar Case Events & Rentals