Governor DeWine Picks Winners and Losers with State Reopening Plan

Main Street Ohio remains closed while larger stores and vendors open

Governor DeWine announced his plan to gradually reopen the state of Ohio beginning May 4th. Citing concerns about opening too quickly and potentially threatening the health of the community DeWine and his team determined that certain medical procedure, dental practices and veterinarian clinics as well as large chain stores would open. Smaller main street Ohio mom and pop shops, hair salons, bars and restaurants would remain closed.

DeWine offered no metrics or insight into his decision making regarding who reopens and who remains closed. Nor did he provide criteria that would determine when these smaller businesses would reopen leaving the already financially challenged small businesses teetering on permanent closure.

If health and safety are the key factors the list of winners doesn’t make sense.

For example, there is more risk to having a dental procedure than having your hair cut. Dental procedures involve bacteria, purulent, and blood all in a very close proximity to the mouth and face of both the dentist, dental assistant and client. The face and mouth have been identified by Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton as the critical location for internalizing the virus. Additionally, the list of complications after a dental procedure can include cardiovascular as well as dry socket, bone infection, Osteonecrosis of the jaw. There is also risk of disease infection in dental office. While it makes sense that dental procedures are necessary if not critical for overall health there is risk involved.

So, the question is why can’t hair salons and beauty shops reopen? Clearly they can take precautions for the safety of employees and their customers. Business owners and employees in this industry generally lack the financial cushion to remain closed indefinitely.

The owner of Sassy Hair Studio in St. Clairsville, Kathy Stewart Soukup, opened her salon two years ago. “I had one additional hairdresser, along with myself and a massage therapist,” said Soukup.

In January of 2019, Soukup said she added an addition, two more stylists and a nail technician. “When the governor shut us down, we had a three-hour notice. We all were booked,” she said.

“I, myself, work 75 hours a week. We are all independent contractors. Three of my girls have children – one is expecting. None of us have received stimulus unemployment,” said Soukup. “I also applied for SBL which I also didn’t receive.

“We did what the state of Ohio told us, ‘Go home! Flatten the curve… Stop the spread!’ This has caused financial hardship to all of us. I spent my savings to do my addition – my landlord still needs his rent. It’s been extremely hard. I just hope I can sustain my salon!”

Similarly, small mom and pop shops, typically have less foot traffic than large scale retail chain stores making social distancing more difficult for the soon to open Malls and big box stores. Both have significant financial risk, with large retailers seeing 99.3% decrease in foot traffic as most department stores have shuttered. So why exclude the smaller retail establishment?

One survey of small business finds, nearly 7.5 million small businesses may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months, and 3.5 million are at risk of closure in the next two months.

The survey reveals 60 percent of respondents have less than 5 months remaining of likely business survival.

Nicole Ferris, a massage therapist and acupuncturist, has witnessed firsthand how the shutdown has hurt small business owners, their employees and the people they serve. The experience has given her new insight and even caused her to switch political parties.

Ferris owns Healthy Center Massage Therapy and Acupuncture. She’s been in business for 18 years and has been at her current location for eight.

Recently, Ferris decided it was time to turn her business into a corporation and make her five contracted massage therapists and receptionists into employees. Her good intentions backfired when the shutdown went into effect and none of her employees qualified for unemployment.

“I turned them all into employees and gave them full benefits,” said Ferris. “But this all happened in February and they hadn’t worked long enough to get unemployment, so they’ve made absolutely nothing since they were laid off.”

Being the only acupuncturist at the center, Ferris was the only one authorized to continue working under the governor’s directives, since acupuncture falls under a different category than massage therapy. This enabled her to at least keep the doors open and make rent.

The business went from seeing about 20 clients each day to less than three.

Some of Ferris’ acupuncture clients are in pain as they await surgeries that were cancelled when the state shuttered surgical centers. In addition, she said, a friend who found out she had a marker for cancer right before the shutdown recently learned that the cancer has now metastasized.

“She was supposed to go for an assessment appointment, and it got cancelled because it wasn’t essential,” said Ferris. “When they got her in last week when the hospitals opened, they found out that it had already spread.”

Ferris has watched while fellow small business owners battle to stay afloat.

Ferris said her circle of friends has been virtually unaffected by the shutdown. They are unable to relate to what Ferris and other business owners are going through.

“They’re working from home and getting their full benefits and full paycheck and making a lot of comments about how everybody needs to stay home and how all of these directives are correct and the mandates are right. Anytime I would speak up about how people are hurting financially or, you know, some of the small business owners I’ve seen crying recently, they don’t understand.”

The ordeal made Ferris question her political views. Once receiving a county Democrat of the Year award and the former head of a Democratic women’s group, Ferris is now a registered Republican.

Ferris said she is beyond ready for her business to fully reopen and already has safety protocols in place.

The Hill released a survey that finds nearly 9 in 10 Americans surveyed said they are concerned about the economy collapsing during the coronavirus outbreak.

Reopening Ohio is a critical first step to ensuring our state and nation’s viability. ALL Ohio businesses that choose to reopen and can meet specific health and safety criteria should reopen.

If main street Ohio doesn’t open quickly it likely will never recover from the COVID 19 pandemic. Ohioans who took great risk of opening a small business stand to lose everything without ever knowing the factors the Governor and his team used to determine that they should remain closed or any indicators of when they may reopen.

The owner of Designed for Print, located in Barnesville, Ohio said his graphic design business is at risk.

“I have orders that I’ve put my own money and time into producing and they’ve not been picked up and probably never will be now,” said John McMahon, who has been in business for close to seven years.

“Cash flow stopped immediately in March in the days before the governor even announced mandatory closures. Bills for the shop and home are still coming in, regardless. I had a scheduled vacation for the beginning of April that was cancelled and I have already used that money plus money from savings to pay bills.

“I suppose I’m lucky to have had that set back in the first place – some have no savings, nothing to fall back on,” added McMahon.

McMahon said he is aware of other local small business owners that are making some tough decisions.

“The ones I’ve spoken with are being forced to choose between paying bills at home or bills for the business – and you know they’re going to pay home bills first. I hope that they somehow prevail, despite all this.”

Next door to Designed for Print is Bless Your Heart Folk Art, a retail home décor and crafting store. The business is owned by McMahon’s mother, Margie McMahon and has been in business over nine years and is at risk due to a total loss of revenue.

Margie McMahon is concerned that customers won’t come in even after the shutdown is lifted due to fear of the virus.

“All spring and Easter items that were put out will have to be put away and hopefully we can sell it next year,” said Margie McMahon. Meanwhile, building payments, building and inventory insurance and utilities all still coming due.

“I’ve ordered masks and hand sanitizers for myself and my employees to use and will also have them available for public purchase. With the right precautions I hope we will be ok. I worry about it being a very slow start and how long until it would pick up again.”

Margie McMahon added that she has certain customers she liked to give hugs to and is sad that she can no longer do that.