‘Slow and careful’: Retail businesses still planning how best to reopen following new order

MADISON, Wis. – The latest order from Governor Tony Evers and the state’s Department of Health Services gives the green light for certain retail stores to reopen, effective immediately, but some business owners are still pumping the brakes.

What would usually be a busy time for shoppers on Monroe Street has slowed to a near stop. Hive’s owner, Pam Schwarzbach, said customers are eager to see what’s new this spring, but the pandemic has forced the clothing boutique to move sales online.

“The goal was to be in the neighborhood and part of the neighborhood,” Schwarzbach said, calling the business area some of the most vibrant in the city.

The newest emergency order allows strip-mall based and standalone shops such as Hive to reopen their doors to five or fewer customers at a time, but Schwarzbach said she’s not rushing anything.

“It seems a bit early knowing we still have cases rising daily in Wisconsin, to be making that choice,” she said. “Simultaneously, I know how crippling this is for a lot of businesses.”

“I have to say, it caught all of us off guard,” said Carol “Orange” Schroeder, who is co-owner of Orange Tree Imports across the street. She also represents the Monroe Street Merchants Association.

“Some businesses wrote to me asking, ‘What do we need to do?’” Schroeder said, adding that change won’t happen instantly, as local business owners consider how best to accommodate the five-customer restriction and keep up with safety guidelines.

“We have to keep in mind there isn’t really a change in the safety of shopping. We can make it as safe as possible for customers, but the priority has to be on keeping social distancing, sanitizing and hand-washing,” she said. “It’s definitely a welcome option, but it’s not for everybody, and I don’t think we’ll see a return to normalcy for independent retailers at least for several weeks, if not months.

Schwarzbach has been gearing up to safely reopen Hive by ordering sanitation stations and shields, planning how to reorganize the store to allow for social distancing and considering going appointment-only.

“There’s so much unknown,” Schwarzbach said. “We will open eventually. It’s not going to be this week.”

She’d rather take it slow to help keep her neighborhood safe in the long run.

“While I want to survive, and I’m sure we will, I think the better choice is to go slow and be careful,” Schwarzbach said. “Finding a balance is crucial so we can survive and keep in mind the health and wellness of the community.”