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Economy & Business

Georgia Governor Is Ready To Reopen The State. Many Small Businesses Aren't

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to stay in Georgia for a few more minutes to talk about Governor Brian Kemp's decision to start allowing some businesses, such as salons and bowling alleys, to reopen as of yesterday. These businesses are paving the way for others, such as dine-in restaurants and theaters, to reopen next week. So we wanted to hear from some business owners. As you may have heard, Governor Kemp's decision has been criticized by many, but some business owners are pleased. We spoke with one of them.

JAYNE BORST: My name is Jayne Borst, and my salon is called Shades Salon. And I'm in Marietta, Ga.

MARTIN: Jayne Borst opened her business yesterday for the first time since Governor Kemp issued stay-at-home orders roughly a month ago. But she says her coronavirus-related problems began before that.

BORST: Part of the frustrating thing - and I wasn't frustrated. I don't want to say that we were frustrated with clients. But we had so many cancellations because people were afraid to come in, which we totally understood. And yet, you know, it's also you're trying to keep the doors open and the lights on and keep people paid.

I honestly did not think about not reopening. I have four people that rent from me and four that work for me, and they need to be able to retain their clienteles. You know, and the longer we're shut, the harder it will be for the salon to stay successful and for them to stay booked.

MARTIN: But Borst says reopening doesn't mean things have returned to normal.

BORST: I would say business - if it's a quarter of what it was, I would say that is being generous.

MARTIN: And, Borst says, reaction has been mixed.

BORST: I either have people thanking me for opening or I have people angry that I'm open. I feel like this has started a whole firestorm that almost has made things worse.

MARTIN: Borst says she was already doing much of what is required for businesses to reopen before the shutdown, including the use of gloves and frequent cleanings. But now there's a mandatory health questionnaire for clients to fill out before they walk in the door and temperature testing. And she says keeping people safe is not just up to business owners.

BORST: You know, we're doing all this to protect our clients, but we need to make sure we're protecting ourselves, too. As one of my stylists said to me today, I'll protect you, you protect me. Don't come in sick. Don't expose me, either, so that I go home and expose my family.

MARTIN: That's Jayne Borst, the owner of Shades Salon in Marietta, Ga. But while business owners like Borst welcome the opportunity to get back to work, others have decided to stay closed.

EMILY CHAN: I'm Emily Chan, and I own JenChan's restaurant in Cabbagetown.

MARTIN: That's in Atlanta. Beginning Monday, restaurants like Chan's will be able to open their doors to diners. But Chan says she is listening to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is urging businesses to remain closed.

CHAN: We closed March 15. We just didn't see how you could have bodies in close proximity inside a restaurant and stay safe. So we closed and decided we would pivot very quickly to delivering takeout. And my staff - you know, I sat down with them and asked how they felt about getting on bikes and delivering food to the neighborhood. And they were just absolutely thrilled that we weren't going to close our doors.

I do not know a single restaurant that will be opening. Everyone sort of shares the same sentiment, and that's that we just don't feel like Georgia has met those guidelines yet. You know, after Kemp said that restaurants could reopen on Monday, I don't think I missed a beat in my heart knowing that we couldn't do that to our community. I lost an uncle to COVID-19 in a nursing home, so it was a very easy decision for us as a family to make that our business isn't worth someone's life.

I don't want to continue take-out and delivery forever. It's heartbreaking to put food in a box. But we can't put it on a plate and take it to a table inside our restaurant as long as this virus is still running rampant.

MARTIN: Chan says all the stress has left her little time to process all that's happened, including the loss of her uncle.

CHAN: It's just, you know, survival mode. And when you're in survival mode, your cognitive skills aren't working. You're not inspired. You're not creative. All of the things that you need to be as a chef aren't there. I just really want to make it to September so we can have a one-year anniversary in whatever capacity that will be. I would like to see that day, and I would like to make my small staff proud.

MARTIN: That is Emily Chan, owner of JenChan's restaurant in Atlanta. We also heard from Jayne Borst, owner of the Shades Salon in Marietta, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.