Columbus is open for business, for the most part.
Downtown businesses have started opening their doors to the public again following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the “safer at home” order made by Gov. Tony Evers and Health Sec. Andrea Palm, though they have been taking extra steps to ensure customer safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“I will say these first couple days were stressful and a little nerve-wracking because of the virus. You don’t want to put anyone at risk, or myself,” said Brooke Saunders, owner of the Chipped and Cracked nail salon, 131 E. James St. “I feel good about going forward from here.”
Earlier this month, while still closed, Saunders re-gifted $25 of every $75 gift card purchase to nurses in honor of National Nurse’s Day. Her salon reached six years open this year and she said she has built a good clientele base and is booked all the way into June. She is keeping appointments more local as possible clients call in from Dane County, where there are still more restrictions on businesses.
For safety, Saunders said she is focusing on hand washing when people come in, constantly wiping down surfaces and using masks. She said her clients feel she’s good about cleanliness and, as a one-person salon, it’s easier to social distance. She is keeping two to three people inside at a time, asking people to wait in their cars and text when they get there and asking customers if it’s OK if someone else comes in.
Rich Luey, of the Old Garage barber shop and salon and the president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s important to finally get people out of their homes and the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the importance of steps like keeping their hands sanitized. According to Luey, Old Garage is booked solid and has been taking calls from customers from the Madison area. Dane County kept a local stay-at-home order in place, though recently opened up some businesses like restaurants with 25% capacity and allowed other like salons and tattoo parlors to open by appointment only.
Old Garage has hand sanitizer at the door, stylists wearing masks and plastic dividers separating chairs. The shop asks that customers use the hand sanitizer, wear their own masks and stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms.
Luey noted that businesses like restaurants may struggle to stay fully staffed as customer demand for the old way of sit-down dining remains lower.
Michelle Dreger, managing pharmacist at Forward Pharmacy, said the coffee shop has re-opened with more limited hours as there has been less demand. The pharmacy, of course, stayed open through the peak of the pandemic, though the rest of the shop was previously partitioned off. A glass barrier protects pharmacists at the counter. She said that as people start venturing out more, the shop will take that into consideration to possibly extend the hours in the coffee shop to what they were before.
Through the shut down, Kate Bender of Columbus started a giveaway program on Facebook for businesses. Community members donated gift cards and people were able to receive gift cards in the giveaways. She got the idea from someone in Princeton, Illinois, where she’s from.
“I hate sitting back and not being able to help,” Bender said, as businesses were completely shut down and workers had to find other jobs.
Bender said the idea blew up. She originally thought she might have had to reach out to businesses but community members came through instead and turned out all of the gift cards. She took donations electronically or by mail.
With businesses opened back up, Bender said she’s not sure how much participation there will be going forward but that she wants to help businesses continue to ease back into the new normal.
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