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Local stores are slowly opening up

This photo taken last month shows how quiet downtown Vergennes was at the height of the pandemic. Today some businesses are opening up.

It’s a circumstance we’ve never experienced … You’re not going to make money right now.
— Dan McIntosh of Forth ‘N Goal Sports

ADDISON COUNTY — Vermont retailers, closed for seven weeks to halt the spread of coronavirus, on Monday began a gradual reopening, after Gov. Phil Scott loosened his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. 
Nevertheless, many retailers in Addison County did not rush to open their stores as they sought ways to keep customers and employees safe during the ongoing public health emergency.
Under state guidelines all employees at retail outlets must wear face covering and maintain a distance of 6 feet. Stores will also be required to stay under 25% of their maximum legal capacity, and conduct health and safety training on the state guidelines if they have more than 10 employees.
A survey of retailers around the county showed a mix of caution and eagerness to get back in business.

IN VERGENNES
On Main Street in Vergennes a shop owner and a store manager reported slightly different results, but both were hopeful after Monday, when customers could again walk through their front doors.
Linda Cook, owner of Linda’s Apparel and Gifts, saw “a steady stream” of customers show up. And she said she was optimistic after many of them bought in greater volume after not having shopped in person for a number of weeks.
“We’ve been very busy today, and with bigger sales,” Cook said. “Our regulars have been very happy to get in the swing of things.”
Mandy Beenen, manager of Your Turn Resale Shoppe, said not too many customers showed up, but a number of people dropped off clothes and other goods for the consignment store. And the phone was ringing, making her think more shoppers would be on the way as the week wore on.
“I have to say it’s pretty slow. I can probably count on my fingers how many people were in here,” Beenen said. “What has been happening more today is people have been calling to see if we’re open.”
According to Julie Basol, Marketing and Development Coordinator of the Vergennes Partnership, a number of other downtown enterprises would be open by the middle of the week: LuLu Ice Cream, Daily Chocolate, Hollyhocks, Malabar, Vermont Pure Essentials, and possibly others.
Both Beenen and Cook said they were following government safety recommendations in their shops, both with 10-person capacity limits, including two workers.
Beenen said she appreciated guidelines sent out by the partnership, but Your Turn stuck with state government recommendations.
“We’ve done all the COVID-19 guidelines, masks, the sneeze guard, wiping down anything your hands would touch every couple hours or so,” she said, adding there are also tape markers on the floor.
At Linda’s, clothes that are tried on and not purchased are set aside for the rest of the day, hangers and changing rooms are disinfected afterward, door handles and credit card machine are wiped down after each use, there is Plexiglas up at the register, and the store’s restroom is being cleaned three times a day.  
Cook said she’s relying on customers to follow social distancing guidelines and isn’t puttig tape on her floors. Cook asked customers to sign documents provided by the Vergennes Partnership and city officials that they would wear masks and comply with social distancing.
“All of the women have read it and are signing off on it,” she said.
Both Cook and Beenen reported no issues with compliance. Beenen said customers “absolutely” wore masks and followed guidelines, as did Cook.
Cook said she was prepared to speak up if necessary.
“We would have to, but just jokingly maybe say something. We don’t want to be stern about it,” she said.
Both expected customer traffic to continue.
“I know people have been shopping more online, but there are certain things, like clothing, that you want to try on when you buy,” Beenen said.
Cook summed up: “It will never be the same, but we’ll get back to close to where we were.”

DOWNTOWN BRISTOL
Various retailers in downtown Bristol are taking different approaches to opening.
Recycled Reading, which sells books, toys, art supplies and musical instruments, reopened Monday, but with restrictions.
“I will be following current Vermont safety guidelines, and I greatly appreciate your participation and patience,” wrote store owner Melissa Hernandez on Front Porch Forum this week.
Masks will be mandatory.
“I will be wearing a mask,” Hernandez wrote. “Anyone entering the store is REQUIRED to wear a mask, fully covering the nose and mouth.”
In-store shopping is limited to five people at any one time, and customers should do their best to maintain six feet of social distancing, she said.
Recycled Reading is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Tuesdays, when the store is closed), and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Phone orders for curbside or in-store pickup will continue to be available, Hernandez said, and the store now has a new website, recycledreadingofvt.com, which will offer an ever-expanding selection of products each week.
Down the street, Shawna Sherwin and Bonita Bedard of Vermont Honeylights — which sells beeswax candles, gifts, decor and lots of Vermont-made products — are taking things more slowly.
“We just aren’t ready,” they wrote on the store’s Facebook page Sunday. “We need to make a few adjustments in the physical space of the store in addition to the fact that we are not ready to expand our circle just yet.”
Sherwin and Bedard promised to keep customers posted about more curbside shopping opportunities and an official reopening date.
In the meantime, they said, “if you need anything from the store or if you need masks, we will make it happen.”

MIDDLEBURY MAIN ST.
Round Robin, the Middlebury resale shop that raises money for Porter Medical Center, reopened on Monday with masks available to customers, who will be required to wear them when shopping.
The Middlebury resale shop Neat Repeats will reopen next Tuesday, May 26, with limited hours of noon to 4 p.m. The resale shop won’t accept donations yet. Shoppers are asked to use the side entrance of the Route 7 South store, and they must sanitize hands and wear masks upon entering. There will be a maximum of 10 people in the store at one time. 
The Middlebury Shop/Forth ‘N Goal Sports at 68 Main St. opened for the first time on Tuesday since the state ordered retailers to close back in mid-March.
Storeowner Dan McIntosh confirmed a trickle of customers during a phone interview. Others, he said, were surprised to see his and other retailers back open.
Coronavirus-related rules governing retail operations are posted inside the store, which is limiting three customers inside the establishment at one time, according to McIntosh. Shoppers don’t have to wear masks, but store officials are requesting they do so.
McIntosh and other downtown merchants are currently facing three hurdles to “business as usual.” There’s the coronavirus, which discourages browsers who might make “impulse buys”; there’s the downtown Middlebury rail project, which is ramping up (see related story on Page 1A); and Middlebury College campus is closed.
“The reality is, Middlebury is highly reliant on the college,” McIntosh said.
Fortunately, the Middlebury Store has been able to chalk up some web-based sales.
Right now, the Middlebury Store is open limited hours — 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.
McIntosh said the current environment is not one conducive to having a sale to attract shoppers.
“It’s a circumstance we’ve never experienced,” he said.
“You’re not going to make money right now.”
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Is your business reopening this week? Let the Independent know what changes you have made for this new reality; send an email to [email protected].

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