Five Months In, EG Businesses Learn to Cope

by | Aug 16, 2020

The town urges everyone to follow the rules so businesses can remain open

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

What could not be imagined six months ago – wearing a face mask at the grocery store, the ubiquitous social distancing stickers and signs, plexiglass everywhere – has become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most businesses have adapted, but it’s a mixed bag, with different concerns depending on the business. 

“Some members are doing pretty good. They have not been affected directly by COVID. Others have been very affected,” said EG Chamber head Steve Lombardi last week. One thing he’s been hearing is apprehension about COVID coming back.

In an effort to support local businesses during this time, the Town of East Greenwich issued this message to residents last week: 

Local business needs the community’s help as we all want our favorite shops and restaurants to remain open and successful. To accomplish this end, everyone needs to do the best they can to embrace and adapt to our changed environment. Not everyone is comfortable today or will be in the future, in frequenting a local retail shop or eating (indoors/outdoors) at a local restaurant. If we don’t figure out a balance in the exercise of safe behavior very soon, many of our local businesses will not make it through the upcoming winter season.

How to do your part? We are asking that all patrons wear masks in public places and until seated and we need all employees/ managers to wear masks in common areas and when serving and talking with customers. East Greenwich can do this, we’re a smart and resilient community, but only if everyone buys into the process as we all need to rely on each other to make this work. When the summer crowds and outdoor seating has ended, your guess is as good as any as to what our commercial district may look like and what doors may/may not remain open.

This changed environment is not expected to leave us anytime soon, so please join us in being part of the solution and not part of the problem. East Greenwich is Open for Business, and it is your actions that will have a direct impact on what the community looks like in the very near future.

We checked in with a few local businesses to see how they are faring:

“We’re not back to where we were last year at this time, but each week gets a little better than the last week,” said Shannon Wylie, owner of The Nook coffee shop on Main Street. “The Cloosiv app has helped, especially because we still have customers not comfortable coming in.” (The mobile app Cloosiv was designed specifically for ordering at small coffee shops and cafes.)

Wylie said she had added some healthy-eating options, like “On Island Time,” almond butter, banana, and cacao nibs on high-fiber bread, filling the void now that Raw Bob’s has moved a couple miles to the south. 

“I want to be able to seat people inside,” she said. “That’s what I miss, the community we’re not getting.” 

In her small shop, even finding the space for three different parties would be challenging. So for now, customers take out or use one of the tables out front. 

Wylie said they have not had trouble with people refusing to wear masks. “Everyone has been great with the masks! They’ll often stop halfway on the walk to the shop and turn around to get it from their cars.” 

Not that it’s always easy. “It’s definitely getting hot to wear it working, but I have nothing to complain about compared to the people working in kitchens,” she said.

Business continues to be brisk at Thorpe’s Wine and Spirits on Main Street and the store has been handing out as many as 50 surgical masks a week to customers who forget. Sometimes, however, a customer will raise a fuss, said owner Patty McGreen, who recalled a customer from a couple of weeks ago.

 “A guy came in without a mask and was shopping in an aisle and I said, ‘Oh, you need to wear a mask.’ And he said, ‘No, I don’t need to wear a mask.’ I said, ‘You need to wear a mask. It’s required.’ I said, ‘I’ll give you a mask.’ ‘I don’t need to wear a mask,’ he said. I finally gave him a mask and then he wouldn’t put it on. I said, ‘You need to put it on.’ That’s when he said, ‘I can go to 20 other liquor stores and I don’t need to wear a mask.’ And I said, ‘That’s OK. You can go to any other liquor store and that’s fine with me.’ At which point he threw the mask at me and said, ‘You can shove this mask ** **** ***.’ My husband was there and he said, ‘Hey, hey!’ The guy left.”

McGreen added, “Most people are compliant. That one was pretty bad.”

Storeowners face fines if they don’t enforce the COVID-19 rules, she said. “We’ve been audited before. People come in and they check compliance. They check the compliance of the staff, they check the compliance of our customers. They check our signage.”

Thorpe’s has gotten good marks, McGreen said. 

Like Thorpe’s, Coutu Auto Service on South County Trail has been open the entire time during the pandemic. But when many of us were staying at home pretty much all the time those first couple of months, that meant less need for car service, so things were slow until mid-May, according to Richelle Souza, manager and service advisor.

Now, however, it’s been pretty consistent, she said. Of course, business as usual has changed, with the COVID-19 protocols. Souza goes through the symptom checklist with clients. When a car is dropped off, she sprays the interior with Lysol, then goes inside and washes her hands. Clients are expected to wear masks and, for the most part, “everyone’s been pretty understanding,” she said. More than anything, she said she’s noticed just a higher level of general frustration with life during the pandemic, not so much frustration that’s targeted at Couto.

Meanwhile, at The Green Door on Main Street, owner Susan Swanson hasn’t been in a hurry to reopen. Unlike many business owners on Main Street, Swanson and her husband own their building and they’ve been there a long time, so the urgency isn’t as great. 

“My gals don’t feel comfortable going back to work and I’m not going to get a whole new staff. They are the best staff I could ever want,” said Swanson, who noted her employees are all over 60. She’s been taking floral orders and delivering curbside but she acknowledges some customers have been unhappy she isn’t reopening. “This is reality. I’m doing the best I can to be safe,” she said. 

She’s been using the time as a “creative sabbatical” – ”I thought, I’m going to make the best of this. Plus, I haven’t had a summer off in 30 years!”

EG News knows this is a challenging time for everyone. If you are able, consider supporting local news with a donation. Use the Donate button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect St., EG, RI 02818. And if you need some help, let us know: contact [email protected]. Together we are stronger.

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