Governor Charlie Baker revealed this past Monday the shell of his four-phase approach to reopening Massachusetts’ economy amid the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. Yet the announcement introduced little more than the names of each phase — Start, Cautious, Vigilant and New Normal — and a brief sentence on what they will entail.
A full report by the state’s Reopening Advisory Board is slated to arrive in Baker’s hands Monday and will be shared with the public later that day. In a press conference Friday, he said the order closing nonessential businesses in the state would be extended for 24 hours, from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday.
But the one-day delay still leaves nonessential small businesses given the green light to reopen in phase one little time to prepare. Without clear direction from the state, and with bills mounting, many owners are left to speculate when they’ll be allowed to reopen and how they should prepare their businesses for safe operation.
The Globe spoke with five small business owners from various industries across the state as they pioneer a new frontier of the coronavirus epidemic. All are eagerly awaiting a return to business. Some believe that could happen next week. Each recognizes the dangers COVID-19 still poses to the state.
Lex Andre Daluz, Marvelous Cuts, Brockton
Daluz laughed when asked about his appointments for next week.
“We’re solid booked up,” said the second-generation barber, who owns shops in Brockton and Boston. “Of course all of that is contingent on what the state addresses Monday.”
Daluz is hoping to open his Brockton shop on Thursday at half capacity with only one barber on at a time. The shop will lack the social scene that’s made it a neighborhood staple over the years, with men strolling in weekly for a cut with a side of camaraderie. Smiles will hide behind face masks and the banter-filled waiting room will be closed off completely.
“Extreme measures need to be taken, and they cannot be taken lightly,” said Daluz, who developed his reopening plan via a “thorough investigation” of social media accounts of barbers’ operations in states like Maine, New Hampshire, and Georgia.
It’s been a particular struggle to track down cleaning and sanitation supplies for his shop since vendors are stretched thin for such hot commodities. When those supplies are secured, they require businesses to tap into funds they might not have after two months without income, said Daluz.
“We’ve gotten nothing except a blur of direction from the state, so it’s every business for themselves right now in terms of finding resources on how to reopen correctly,” he said.
Dave Andelman, Mendon Twin Drive-In, Mendon
Andelman has been reading the news of drive-in theaters opening across the country with frustration and hope. From New York to Texas, the once-fading open-air widescreen is having a renaissance in the age of coronavirus as people clamor for public entertainment that doesn’t sacrifice social distancing. But in Massachusetts, drive-ins remain closed for now.
The crew at Mendon Twin Drive-In has spent the past month preparing for an imminent return to operations. They lugged cement blocks into every other parking space, secured a takeout container for corndogs, and sprayed painted 6-foot markers in any location where lines might typically develop.
And now they wait.
“All I can say is this: It’s obvious we are safer than a Walmart or a Target or a Home Depot. But I’m not Dr. Fauci. Or a scientist. Or a policy maker. I’m just a businessman who keeps fielding questions from the public who ask, ‘How come you are not open?’” said Andelman, who owns the drive-in with his brothers, Mike and Dan.
In normal times, the drive-in, which opened in the summer of 1954, begins its season in late March. It is one of roughly 330 outdoor theaters still remaining in a country that once boasted over 4,000 in the mid-1950s. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave clearance Monday to drive-ins to start screening Friday, as part of phase one reopening plan in that state.
Andelman has received no indication from Baker’s office that he will be able to open next week, but he is prepared to do so with one vintage and one new film screening after sundown, one on each screen.
On Thursday night, the drive-in posed a simple Facebook question: “Should Governor Baker allow us to open safely and legally Monday night?” Over 2,000 people liked or loved the post.
Mike and Nancy Maida, Pawsh Dog Boutique, Back Bay
“Let’s see here… 35, 37… 50… 61,” Mike Maida counted over the phone while flipping through his calendar of dog grooming appointments Thursday. “Yeah, it looks like we’re in the 60 to 70 range for appointments next week.”
There’s a chance all of those will be canceled.
Maida runs Pawsh Dog Boutique in Back Bay with his wife Nancy. The couple founded the Gloucester Street business in 2008 as an homage to their Boston Terrier. Since Baker’s stay-at-home-order, Pawsh has remained open for retail since pet supplies are deemed essential but canceled over 300 grooming appointments.
“We just have everybody waiting in the wings,” said Maida of his furloughed groomers.
The Maidas have devised a plan for operations they think will comply with federal and state social distancing regulations. All services will be by appointment only. Dogs will be dropped off within a gated area. All communication with their owners will occur by phone.
We’re hopeful. We’re prepared. But we have to wait and see,” he said.
Kanessa Alexander, Perfect 10 Unisex Salon, West Roxbury
Alexander reached her five year anniversary of owning Perfect 10 Unisex Salon in April. But instead of celebrating the occasion with a cake at the salon, or by snipping and styling locks, she simply paid rent on a property she hadn’t been able to use in a month.
The West Roxbury hair salon closed in mid-March and has remained shuttered since. For the past two weeks, she has heard murmurs that hair salons might be slated to open in phase one, but it still seems too soon to her. She knows multiple people who have fallen ill with the virus, as well as a few who have died.
She feels torn between her health and her livelihood.
“If I can’t make an income, I can’t pay rent. But there is a cruel irony in America right now, asking somebody to risk their life for a dollar. I’m hesitant to do it. I know I can’t ask my stylists to do it,” she said.
When Baker does tap hair salons to reopen, she will start accepting appointments. She and her stylists need a paycheck. However, she is not confident the arrangement will last long.
“We will move forward, but I think it will push us back,” she said warning of spikes in deaths and cases this summer. “Even if we make it a month, we will probably get shut down again.”
John Grasso, Halfway Café, Dedham, Watertown and Marlborough
Grasso is one of a hundred restaurant owners and managers who signed an open letter to Governor Baker on Wednesday, petitioning for restaurants to reopen May 19. But, ultimately, the Halfway Cafe owner admits he just wants clarity and a timeline.
“We need a date to shoot for with ordering and initiating cash flow,” said Grasso. “We understand there are no certainties but give us something.”
Many in the industry are reconfiguring spaces in anticipation of outdoor dining receiving a green light prior to typical restaurant operations, as has happened in Rhode Island. Grasso looked into buying a bevy of picnic tables, but health inspectors cautioned against buying anything because of the murkiness of the forthcoming regulation.
He likened the eventual preparation to a mad dash in a Jeopardy! match where the first person to the buzzer gets the best chance at success. With inventories depleted and staff furloughed, it will take a careful balancing act to restart restaurants for owners who have a limited amount of cash.
“The state is not giving us any indication at all of when we will return so you feel like you’re being led into battle with a water pistol,” he said.