Businesses across the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County are preparing to open their doors next week after seven weeks of being shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Mike DeWine is allowing retail businesses to open on May 12 under the Responsible Restart Ohio program announced last week. Since then, businesses and chambers of commerce have been working to re-launch as safely as possible for customers and employees.

“It’s mandatory for me or my employees to have a mask, which we are equipped with,” said Mariann Goodwin, owner of the Carriage Trade Boutique in Chardon Square. “I’ve actually ordered masks from one of my vendors that I will have to sell for a very inexpensive cost, and I also have ordered masks for free to give out.”

The well-stitched face masks that Mrs. Goodwin plans on selling for $10 reflect just one aspect of how business will be different across the region.

Gov. DeWine closed nonessential businesses on March 24 to stop the spread of the deadly and highly contagious COVID-19 disease.

Although state health officials are seeing a leveling off of cases, Ohio as of Wednesday reported 20,969 confirmed cases and 1,135 deaths due to COVID-19.

Other stores are considering their unique offerings to customers.

“One of a boutique’s specialties in general, is we would steam our clothes, so whenever we would get something from a vendor, we would open it and steam it,” explained Vilija Hopkins, owner of Nouvea Vie Boutique in Chagrin Falls.

Gordon Geiger, co-owner of Geiger’s, an outdoor clothing retailer in the Chagrin Falls Shopping Plaza, said his industrial-grade apparel steamer cooks clothing to 210 degrees, which he said is enough to kill the coronavirus.

The Downtown Chagrin Falls group met virtually recently to discuss the best ways to approach reopening safely for the independent shops, Mayor William Tomko said.

Retail shops and restaurants are vital to the health of the village, the mayor said, since the downtown business district pays about half of the village’s tax revenues.

Councilwoman Angela DeBernardo said she is working on a survey of merchants to gauge who will open, decisions on wearing face masks and how shopkeepers intend to manage social distancing.

Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Molly Gebler said that some business owners are worried that they may be opening before customers are ready to shop in person.

“Some of the stores are confused with the extension of the stay safe order that goes until the end of May, but yet they are opening on May 12 and this will be confusing to shoppers,” she said.

Mrs. Hopkins is among the shopkeepers who plan to temporarily reduce store hours and offer private shopping by appointment.

SANITY owner Isabel Pritchett said she plans to open the Chagrin Falls store slowly welcoming customers individually.

Toni Hadad, owner of Toni’s In Style in downtown Chagrin Falls already is serving customers through private appointments. Ms. Hadad said she had purchased merchandise for spring, summer and fall before the virus struck. The clothing is in and the store is ready go on May 12, she said.

There will be new protocols. “We will have hand sanitizer at the door and we will be sanitizing everything all day long,” Ms. Hadad said. “We will be wearing masks as we hope our customers will be too. Safety of our customers and ourselves is what is most important.”

Jean Butler and Lori Muller-Zaim of Fireside Book Shop have limited floor space and are working on details of their reopening. Ms. Butler said she has been working with customers remotely over the past weeks mailing orders and offering curbside pick-up.

Keeping businesses informed is a top priority, said Tom Bennett, president of the Solon Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a lot of taking in a bunch of information, filtering it, becoming a content expert on things that we need to become content experts on or referring people to the appropriate resources,” he said. It boils down to what does opening really mean, he said.

Mr. Bennett said business operators are concerned about obtaining personal protective equipment for employees and customers as well as rebuilding confidence to get people to actually walk back through the door.

Chardon Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stacia Clawson said she is sending out the governor’s directives to businesses. “We want people to know what the official rules are, what the protocols are, but we obviously just want them to open up as safely as they can and as quickly as they can.”

Even though retail makes up the bulk of local reopening efforts, others have been affected in different ways. Just last Friday, Monica Glasscock, the gallery coordinator at Artisans’ Corner in Newbury Township, was staring at the gallery’s blank monthly exhibition wall, wondering how to fill the space ahead of the May 12 reopening.

“I had several artists lined up but everything fell through,” she said. Since the March closing, she has only had private appointments with customers inquiring about framing artwork.

That’s why she’s excited to be able to bring the gallery back to life, and is working on putting together some small group events like artist talks, workshops and demonstrations that she hopes to know more about in the coming weeks.

“We have hand sanitizer, we actually have gloves available for customers if they would like. I’m wearing my mask,” she said. “But I also am asking everybody to, like mom did with us when we were kids, look with your eyes and now with your hands. I’m asking people to let me handle items if they wanted to look at them closer. There’s just too much stuff in here that I cannot possibly clean everything every day.”

There are businesses that are choosing only a partial opening.

For Mother’s Day this weekend, “a lot of our employees are coming back up into their regular, full-time hours,” said Marianne Carroll, co-owner of White Flower Cake Shoppe in Solon and Beachwood.

Mrs. Carroll said her Solon location was able to reopen earlier and has been filling cake orders since then, but with a reduced staff. She added that the bakery did not need to close during the initial shut down order, but they were faced with little choice due to the size of the shop.

Health officials have advised 6-feet of physical distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“We didn’t have to close, but we felt it was the right thing to do during that time to thoroughly sanitize everything,” she said. “We’ve had to modify our business plan a lot, with weddings that have canceled and with not being able to teach classes.” The future, she said, is uncertain. “It’s too tricky to try to plan the year out.”

A veteran reporter and columnist, Barbara Christian has been covering Chagrin Falls since 1967 and is currently responsible for Chagrin Falls village events, government and school board news along with her weekly column "Window on Main Street."

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