By AJ O’Leary
For Chapel Hill and Carrboro businesses, it’s now time for phase one.
That’s the initial segment of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to slowly re-open the state economy, which essentially has been shut down for more than a month because of the coronavirus pandemic. North Carolina officially entered phase one at 5 p.m. on May 8, and that meant retail stores and other non-essential businesses are now allowed to operate if they follow certain precautions.
Casey Longyear, the manager of Rumors, which sells vintage clothing on North Graham Street, reopened her store the day after phase one went into effect.
Longyear said Rumors will operate with reduced hours, only allow ten people in the store at a time, including employees, and require customers to wear masks. Longyear also said Rumors will not be allowing customers to try any clothes on.
Longyear said Rumors had sustained its business with online sales during the pandemic, and she was grateful to be in a position now to reopen.
“I think having something to do and knowing you’re working towards saving your company and saving everyone’s jobs when you can open back up in itself was really inspiring and motivating,” Longyear said. “You want to have some business, but you want it to be safe too.”
The phase one plan allows North Carolinians to “leave home for commercial activity,” whereas previously they could only leave home for essential activities like grocery store visits. It also permits retail stores to reopen if they only allow half of their normal capacity in their buildings at any one time, encourage social distancing and clean frequently.
Katie Loovis, the vice president of external affairs of the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said her organization and other economic development groups in Orange and Chatham counties have tried to help business owners through the reopening process.
To do so, they placed hundreds of local stimulUS signs throughout the area to promote local businesses and created an online guide https://docs.google.com/document/d/10T5cSLUOEI4W_ubsfe-G4Ydf9NipoyMQmpNJuojGW24/edit#heading=h.yg0e92nh5vad detailing how to safely reopen a business.
The guide includes recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources on cleaning, dealing with a sick employee and industry-specific tips on operating safely for many different kinds of companies, including hotels, construction, child care facilities and others.
Loovis said business owners she has talked to want to make sure the reopening process is done responsibly.
“It’s very important to them that if and when they reopen it’s done so safely,” she said.
Loovis said it is significant that so many businesses were able to reopen on Mother’s Day weekend because UNC-Chapel Hill graduation celebrations usually make it a profitable time for many local establishments.
The governor’s order also includes a provision allowing child care centers to open for the children of non-essential workers and encourages state parks and trails to reopen.
Janice Fakhoury, director of the Montessori Academy of Carrboro, on Laurel Avenue, had kept her preschool and daycare center open to provide a place for essential workers’ children. She said she was happy to help essential workers while most people were under shelter-in-place orders and hopes all her students will return soon.
“Their jobs are far more important than mine,” Fakhoury said. “I’m just here to support them.”
Following the new directions, Fakhoury said her staff will check students’ temperatures when they enter the school building, make sure students wash their hands regularly and disinfect frequently-used surfaces often.