Downtown Chagrin Falls on March 17, 2020.

Downtown Chagrin Falls, which is typically full of people bustling around at the local shops and restaurants, appears as a ghost town in the wake of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel  coronavirus. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has encouraged citizens to stay away from crowds, so businesses are coming up with creative ways to stay afloat despite a smaller clientele. 

Business owners throughout the Chagrin Valley, Solon and Geauga County are scrambling to retain customers during the COVID-19 health crisis ongoing in Ohio and across the globe.

As Gov. Mike DeWine tells Ohioans to stay home and avoid crowds, business owners are seeing fewer and fewer customers. Over the past several weeks, Gov. DeWine has taken steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus including shutting down schools, limiting the size of gatherings and closing all restaurants and bars to sit-down service.

Area restaurants, which are still permitted to have take-out service, are moving fast to inform customers of new offerings. Retail shops are working to draw people in with online sales.

“This will financially devastate some small businesses in the Chagrin Valley,” said Molly Gebler, director of the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce. “They’re all being very inventive and creative.”

Ms. Gebler said that businesses in the Chagrin Valley are finding new ways to reach customers. Highway Garage and Auto Body Center in Bainbridge is giving customers the option of having their car picked up at home, repair it at the shop then bring it back so the client can avoid contact with other people. Chagrin Yoga is offering yoga classes on Facebook, she said.

Toni Hadad, owner of Toni in Style, said she is trying to stay calm. Employees at her boutique are being proactive, she said. When a customer leaves the store, employees wipe down surfaces to prevent the spread of viruses. The boutique is located in the usually bustling downtown Chagrin Falls district. The outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, has kept people indoors.

“It definitely has quieted down,” she said on Monday, prompting the reduction of store hours.

“If you’re at home and can’t come to Toni, do your hair, do your makeup, put on something stylish and make your world better,” Ms. Hadad said to uplift her customers during this difficult time.

Solon

On March 13, Solon Chamber of Commerce started a Stay Safe and Shop Local initiative to keep customers safe while keeping local businesses afloat as Gov. DeWine announced more restrictions linked to COVID-19. Chamber Director Tom Bennett said that his organization is reaching out to businesses and asking about gift cards, online shopping, curbside pickup and more.

“We are addressing this aggressively and building upon the spirit of our community,” he said on Monday.

The chamber is posting resources for businesses on its website, such as links to apply for unemployment and how to apply for a small business loan.

“What’s on a lot of people’s mind is, ‘Am I going to make it through this?’ It’s a highly volatile market to begin with,” Mr. Bennett said. “Many restaurants fail without economic pressure. Support your local businesses during this time; there’s no guarantee they’ll be there after this happens.”

Larry Shibley, co-owner of Yours Truly restaurants, said that Gov. DeWine’s March 15 order has brought business to a halt. Yours Truly jumped into action, offering the same menu and hours but alternatives to dining in, he said, such as delivery, curbside pickup, pickup at the door and the regular walk-in grab-and-go option.

Yours Truly, with 10 locations including in Solon and Chagrin Falls, is selling its products by bulk, such as milk, eggs and bread. Before the restaurant was forced to close table service, Mr. Shibley said that 80 percent to 90 percent of its customers dined in.

He explained that the management is in the process of interviewing the waiters and waitresses to see if they would like to keep their job at Yours Truly and, if so, what role they may have at this point.

“We’re keeping a positive attitude and staying healthy,” Mr. Shibley said. “We want to take care of people.”

Chardon

Mary Glauser, executive director of Chardon Tomorrow, is working with Chardon’s businesses to navigate the challenge brought on by restrictions due to the coronavirus. Ms. Glauser said that her organization worked with city officials to change the parking guidelines on the square. Instead of a two hour limit, now there are designated parking spaces for people picking up takeout orders. The organization has shifted its operations from event planning to minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on the local economy.

“Coming off from winter in Chardon, it’s very challenging. January and February are lean times for retailers and restaurants,” she said on Tuesday. “We bounce back in March and April with all the pancake breakfasts and the [Geauga County] Maple Festival. But some businesses are closing temporarily because they can’t afford the overhead of staff.”

Another possible hit to the local economy is the cancellation of this year’s Maple Festival.

Jeanne Osborn-Felberg, owner of the 7 Ladies Tea Parlor in Chardon, said that she was shocked that Gov. DeWine closed restaurants. Her family business just opened last fall and has been doing “extremely well,” she said.

The tea room started a parlor pick-up service on Monday, Ms. Osborn-Felberg said. The tea room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for meals such as sandwiches, quiche, chicken breast and lasagna. The business has a Facebook page and she has been circulating a menu around Chardon, she noted.

Each chamber director encouraged residents to order delivery and pick-up options from their favorite restaurants and order online from retail shops. Residents can also show their support by purchasing gift cards for local restaurants and saving them until after the outbreak subsides.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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