Gov. Kim Reynolds’ May 1 reopening date has been a relief for some small business owners, while others have decided to remain closed despite economic challenges.

Lori Raymie, owner of The Coffee Connection, decided to reopen the dining area for customers after receiving multiple inquiries shortly after Gov. Reynolds made the announcement.

“We received phone calls, and customers would come in and ask, so we knew there was a desire amongst our regular clientele to open back up,” says Raymie.

The business remained open for carryout and curbside pickup while dine-in services were restricted. During this time, business declined significantly. Raymie says she actually began seeing a decline in business as early as February.

“We had made it through a very short, post-Christmas week or two,” says Raymie. “Our days were starting to look normal, but in mid-February, it slowed down again. It wasn’t as significant as what happened after March 13, but it had already begun to slow down.”

Raymie says the benefits of reopening for both the business and employees would outweigh the negative impacts of staying closed, including lost revenue and furloughed employees.

“I didn’t really want to let it go too much longer, the way that it was, because we’re going to have to get used to a new normal, and I was already set up to do that,” says Raymie. “It wouldn’t really have benefitted anyone for us to stay as limited as we were.”

Reopening requirements from the state, including sanitization of tables, counters, bathrooms and door handles, aren’t much different than what was already required of restaurants and food services, says Raymie.

“We already had these practices in place, it was just a matter of frequency,” says Raymie. “Instead of cleaning the bathrooms two to three times a day, we’re now cleaning them every hour if people have been in them. Wiping down the customer and ordering area is something that’s done more frequently now as well.”

Raymie says the first day/weekend of reopening the dining area went smoothly, and customers were respectful of temporary reopening requirements, like keep six feet between one another and abiding by 50 percent of the business’ normal capacity.

“It was a quiet, steady flow,” says Raymie. “I think people are still being cautious, and that’s wise.”

The business never reached 50 percent capacity, but Raymie says they have measures in place to prepare in case it should happen. Customers will be notified upon ordering that they can wait outside until other customers leave, or they can take their meal to-go if the dining area should reach its capacity.

“As far as employees go, they were ready, and I don’t have anyone here who is uncomfortable being here,” says Raymie.

Raymie still has a few employees who remain furloughed.

“I talk to them weekly to check in to see how they’re doing and if they know when they might be ready to come back to work,” says Raymie. “So no one is here with any reservations. They’re ready to go.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to begin reopening the state as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise has been controversial. On April 25, the state saw a daily high of 648 positive cases, just six days before Gov. Reynolds’ planned to begin reopening restaurants, retail stores, fitness centers and churches.

Jay Smith, general manager at Mr. C’s Steakhouse, decided not to reopen his business’ dining area on May 1.

“I don’t feel like it’s quite safe yet for our employees and our customers,” says Smith.

Smith continues to offer meals through the business’ drive-thru window, which hasn’t been used for almost 30 years, in addition to delivery.

“That’s enough to get us by for now, but it’s not near what we were doing sales-wise before all of this,” says Smith. “But, it’s enough to get us by. I think we can continue to do this until we’ve decided it’s time to reopen the dining room.”

Smith says Mr. C’s is receiving about half of the business it normally generates, but with less labor and less food costs, they are able to make ends meet. Smith also requested a Small Business Administration Disaster Loan at the end of March, but he has yet to hear from SBA.

“We have enough funds to go for a little bit, but I really hope to hear from them soon,” says Smith.

Gov. Reynolds said Monday that she intends to take additional steps this week to reopen the state and ease the pandemic-related restrictions on business activity. Other nonessential businesses, such as movie theaters, bars, hair salons and tattoo parlors, are slated to reopen May 15.

Emily Hawk can be reached at ehawk@pellachronicle.com or by calling the Pella newsroom at 641-628-3882.

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