In recent weeks, Texas Governor Greg Abbott began allowing businesses previously shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic to slowly start to reopen. For some, this action is coming much too soon. For others, this action couldn’t come soon enough.
But for most business owners, the ability to reopen is likely putting them in the predicament of balancing business with safety in a state and country experiencing a dearth of leadership and guidance on how to navigate these turbulent COVID-19 waters.
“To say reopening is a balance between the health of our community and the need to support businesses is an understatement,” says Tammi Wallace, 51, co-chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “Listening to health and scientific experts is paramount to adequate decision-making. Reopening must be done safely, sustainably, and successfully—which means it must be a gradual and deliberate process. Our businesses need tools and information from federal, state and local governments that are clear and informative.”
Salons were allowed to reopen in Houston on May 8. Cabe Nowlen, 32, owner of Craft Salon in Montrose, has made operational adjustments that take everyone’s health and safety into consideration as he re-opens his doors.
“This has been a very confusing time,” says Nowlen. “There is so much information, and it changes constantly. I have a 2,600-square-foot space which makes it easier to social distance. I have put an empty station in between each person, and moved another station into the middle of the salon. Everyone will wear masks. As a salon, we already have rigorous health and safety requirements that we must follow, but we are beefing those up. No double use of capes or smocks. No blow drys. And we are only seeing one client at a time.”
Most experienced stylists usually have three clients going at any given time. However, in these days of COVID-19, fast-paced efficiency must take a back seat to safety concerns—not only for Nowlen’s clients, but also for the staff.
For more information about Craft Salon, visit craftsalonhouston.com
Bayou City Smiles
Dental practices were allowed to reopen earlier on May 1 under the phase-in plan developed by the governor’s office. Dr. Marcus de Guzman, a local dentist who owns Bayou City Smiles, says that they held a “soft opening” on May 4 with only a third of their normal staff.
“We have implemented new protocols as recommended by the CDC, the governor, and the Texas State Dental Board of Examiners. Our reception area is essentially closed, to adhere to social distancing. We escort our patients from outside directly to their exam rooms. But before they physically enter the office, the patient’s temperature is taken and a few questions are asked. If they pass, they are allowed to enter the office and are given a squirt of hand sanitizer. As providers working very closely with patients in their mouth, we have to protect ourselves (and the patient), so we now wear N95 masks, a face shield, a gown, and gloves when treating the patient,” says de Guzman.
Acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE) has added another challenge to an already challenging situation. De Guzman said that his office had to go through many obstacles to obtain the necessary PPE, which have been in very short supply. As a result, his suppliers have sharply increased their prices. One gallon of hand sanitizer is now $90, and N95 masks that were normally $1 are now priced at $4 to $5 each.
For more information about Bayou City Smiles, bayoucitysmiles.com.
Hamburger Mary’s Houston
While most important community spaces like bars have had to shut down, in-person dining has been permitted to resume, although at a much lighter capacity. This has allowed places like Hamburger Mary’s to get creative with service and take advantage of the government-imposed downtime.
“We are currently remodeling inside, so we made our ‘patio only’ service available. We also started a drag queen drive-in for our shows. It’s all done in the parking lot! You park your car, and our servers take your orders from your vehicles and deliver to your vehicles as well. Our servers have masks and change gloves after every car order or service. Our drag queens have poster boards with their digital payment info so that they have no-touch tips. So far, they have been very different but fun shows. I get a lot of people sending ‘Great Job!’ and ‘So creative!’—but also some not-so-very-nice messages about having these shows,” says owner Greg Ramos Jr., 41.
For more information about Hamburger Mary’s Houston, visit hamburgermarys.com/houston/
Protecting Employee Paychecks
Many of these small businesses tried to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP loans. These are federally backed loans offered by local banks that allow many employers to keep employees paid and doors (somewhat) open. Based on how each recipient business spends their loans, the money may be treated as a grant. For others, this is a traditional loan with a significantly lower interest rate. Nowlen and de Guzman both benefited from these loans. Ramos, on the other hand, is still waiting to see what happens.
Some businesses that have been deemed “essential” have not been forced to shutter during the lockdown. Crom Rehabilitation, which is owned by Dr. Roy Rivera, 38, has been able to stay open throughout the quarantine.
“Our business has never closed. As part of the healthcare system, we are essential workers and play an integral role in keeping patients out of hospitals and physicians’ offices. We have, however, changed the way we do daily operations. We have integrated tele-health into our practice and are leading the way in Houston for virtual physical-therapy visits,” says Rivera.
Crom Rehabilitation was also able to take advantage of the vital PPP loans, which were extremely helpful in allowing Rivera to continue to pay staff salaries and keep them off of unemployment benefits. Although they all had a reduction in working hours, they were able to reap the benefits of full-time pay.
For more information about Crom Rehabilitation, visit cromrehab.com
John Palmer Art Gallery
Even though most retail businesses had to shutter during the lockdown, John Palmer Art Gallery in the Heights found a way to adapt. Palmer, 46, and his business partner and husband, Ryan Lindsay, 42, had to change their gallery/home business to a by-appointment-only model and cancel all of their many public events. In place of those events, Palmer and Lindsay have gotten creative.
“The one thing that’s most different with our daily life is that we have started a Facebook Live talk show Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. on the John Ross Palmer Facebook page. Normally, I interview John on a different topic for thirty minutes. It is meant to be funny, inspiring, and interesting. It is intentionally not sales driven at all. We feature a painting and talk about it. The point is that it is not a sales technique. It’s about visibility. When the economy rebounds, our clients will have us at the top of their mind,” says Lindsay.
For more information about John Palmer Art Gallery, visit johnpalmerart.com