This Friday, select businesses in Georgia will have the state's blessing to open their doors after a month of coronavirus-related shutdowns. Governor Brian Kemp's order, which covers tattoo parlors, gyms, hair salons, massage therapists, and bowling alleys, has drawn both praise and criticism and even a rebuke from President Donald Trump.
For entrepreneurs, more personal questions loom over the decision. To get a better sense of their thinking, Cheddar spoke with several small business owners across the state to find out which factors went into their decision to either reopen this Friday or stay closed until further notice.
'Pushed into a corner'
Frank "Knitty" Johnson, owner of Infamous Tattoos in College Park outside of Atlanta, is opening first thing Friday morning with new safety protocols in place to protect employees and customers. The shop will operate by appointment only, and customers will be required to wear masks and have their temperature checked at the door, but otherwise it's business as usual.
"We're definitely going to open," he said. "We're going to mask up, face shield up, and social distance."
The veteran tattoo artist, however, said he would have preferred to stay closed until coronavirus had run its course, but his business and employees are struggling to stay afloat.
"We've been closed for about a month now and we haven't received any help from the government as a business owner," he said. "So I've got bills piling up."
Johnson said he applied for an SBA loan but hasn't received any money or notice that it's on its way. None of his employees have received their stimulus checks as well.
"If I had got any kind of support in terms of helping me with my financial obligations throughout the last month, I would have loved to stay home for another week or two, or whenever it starts to trend down. But because of the lack of help, we're kind of pushed into a corner," he said.
Amanda Harrison, owner of Good Fortune Tattoo in Savannah, said she understands the urgency for businesses on the verge of going belly-up, but that she's in a position to hold out.
"We'll survive," she said. "It would be nice to not have to do this for a long time, but I've done this for 25 years and I'm secure in a lot of ways and that definitely helps."
In general, Harrison believes that reopening puts "greed over care," given that the number of cases continue to rise in Georgia. "Safety and health for myself and people who work for me and for clients is most important, so we're just riding it out for a bit," she said.
'No face-to-face interaction'
Gold Cup Bowling Center in central Georgia already has several reservations lined up for a Friday reopening, but it won't look like the bustling establishment it was before coronavirus.
The bowling alley is implementing a string of safety precautions, from only accepting reservations from families to closing down lanes so that there are at least 10 feet between groups.
The reason for opening has less to do with financial pressure than confidence among management that the space can be adapted for social distancing and contactless service.
"I think this facility that we operate is capable of a small-scale reopening," said David Rutherford, president of the Gold Cup chain. "The other two facilities that we operate are not opening. They don't have a big enough footprint to be able to keep people socially distant."
The location in Warner Robins also has technology upgrades that make customer service possible without direct interaction with bowlers.
"This one has the technology," Rutherford said. "If a bowler has a problem, they hit a button at the lane and they get an intercom to the front desk. There's no face-to-face interaction."
Rutherford added that reopening on a limited basis also offers Gold Cup a chance to reconnect with customers and bring in some revenue, though hardly enough to make up for the shutdown.
"This will probably cover a power bill. It's not going to do much more than that," Rutherford said. "It's more about showing people there's hope at the end of this."
'Take care of each other'
HoneeComb Natural Hair is one of the lucky ones when it comes to federal aid. The independent hair salon in east Atlanta got a $4,000 check in the mail from the SBA Thursday morning, which should cover back-rent, according to owner Shana Nunnelly.
The check came as a surprise because she had not received a notification that her application had been approved.
In the meantime, Nunnelly said she and her staff of six hairstylists are doing their best to keep afloat while remaining closed for at least the next two weeks.
"I work with single mothers," she said. "That's my primary staff, so to risk having them bring that back to their homes in any kind of way is reckless."
Nunnelly said she did her best to get ahead of the pandemic. In the first week of March, she started offering some share of her pay to her stylists so they'd have extra cash amid the shutdown.
"They're in a tight and tough situation because they're not getting any kind of food stamps or anything that would supplement their basic survival needs, but we share," she said.
During the shutdown, the salon has formed a tight-knit support group among staff who share supplies, groceries, and help with bills as needed.
"We have to share," Nunnelly said. "Whatever is that we have, we know that we can call one another and say, 'Hey, I need a grocery store run.' or, 'Hey, I need help with my car insurance.' We've had to ban together as a little tribe and take care of each other."
The decision to stay closed was obviously difficult, she added, but ultimately she's hopeful that her community will help the business pull through.
"The biggest thing for me is to not walk in any type of fear," Nunnelly said.