Stores emerging from the COVID-19 quarantine

Bartender Chasity Liederman of Fort Payne and cook Kade Stimpson of Sand Rock greet customers returning to F.C. Weiss in downtown Fort Payne. The restaurant and pub reopened this week after shutting its doors to comply with a public health order in March intended to slow the community spread of the contagious COVID-19 novel coronavirus. 

As concern about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus grew in March, Alabama issued public health orders suspending public gatherings and ordering restaurants to limit their sales to take-out or delivery orders. On March 27, “non-essential” businesses were closed, including entertainment venues, athletic facilities, close-contact service providers and retail stores.

With the state now reversing these restrictions, many local business owners are opening their doors for the first time in months – many with precautions added to slow the spread and reduce the impact of disease while allowing customers to feel safer coming out of isolation.

Some stores have reopened with plexiglass installed at the points of sale to shield employees against respiratory droplets transmitted from coughing or sneezing. Such is the case at Builder’s Supply, which has reopened to the public, one person per car. They are supplying hand sanitizer to each shopper, if desired, and wearing protective loose-fitting surgical-type face masks to protect the wearer from airborne particles. The masks create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment, reducing the chances of infection by 80 percent.

Fort Payne Main Street’s website offers a list of businesses that are re-opening at https://fortpaynemainstreet.org/

Many restaurants closed their dining rooms but continued to offer call-in, curbside delivery or home delivery orders. Others, like Roadside ‘Que at 607 Gault Avenue in Fort Payne, decided to temporarily close their doors completely. They reopened with their regular menu and special Philly sandwiches, but their dining room remains closed out of an abundance of caution.

“We are focused on opening back up with the wellbeing of our guests and staff top of mind,” said Roadside ‘Que owner-operator Justin T. Christman.

N.Y.M.D. at 203 Gault Avenue N is offering back deck dining and alcohol sales but continues limiting itself to take out and delivery.

F.C. Weiss Pub and Eatery reopened May 27 at both the Fort Payne and Centre locations. As bartender Chasity Liederman explained, tables were spaced apart for social distancing while select chairs at the bar were pulled out for separated guest seating. Big-screen TVs played repeats of old sporting events.

Vintage 1889 reopened May 20 with modified hours and some changes to make customers feel safer such as using disposable cups for drinks and plastic tableware, along with spacing tables on the patio six feet apart for social distancing. All but one of the staff returned, according to owner Lynn Brewer, who said they keep it to a limited number of seats. The toughest part of reopening, she said, was not knowing what to expect, but their first Saturday night felt remarkably typical under the circumstances, with a musician performing for guests on the patio.

“We aren’t opening as late, closing at 3 p.m. on Mondays through Wednesdays,” Brewer said. “Thursday through Saturday, we’re open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. We aren’t doing open-mic on Thursday nights for now because we can’t see asking people to share a microphone, but we are open to acoustic night, game night or whatever our customers want.”

Tony Walls, owner of Relics Collectibles, reopened Thursday at 104 Gault Avenue N with hand sanitizer made available for customers. Walls said he will wear a face mask for their protection. One benefit of the time off has been the opportunity to clean the store, clear aisles and restock with new items, he said.

Fort Payne Main Street’s Farmers Market reopens May 29 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Darlene Rotch, president of the Fort Payne Main Street Board of Directors, said the state has provided mandates in order to safely operate.

Rotch also manages the Boom Town Maker’s Market at 324 Gault Avenue N, which will open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. only while putting more merchandise on its website. She said the artists and craftspeople who produce the items in the store have been busy during all of the time spent isolating at home.

Rotch dedicated a good bit of time earlier in the year getting feedback from downtown business owners to better market their goods and services. Many of Fort Payne Main Street’s plans for the year have fallen victim to the coronavirus, and she said she is encouraging a build-up of online retail capacity so retailers can be more resilient to disruptions to in-person shopping. She expressed confidence that the economy will bounce back because entrepreneurs persevere through aversity.

Factory Connection, which is based from Guntersville, Ala., reopened the location at 400 DeKalb Plaza Blvd. with protective barriers at cash registers, limiting the number of people based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signage with instructions to ensure social distancing and protective masks and gloves for staff members.

“We are also increasing our already rigorous cleaning & sanitation protocols, including more frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as doors, and our cash register area,” said a company spokesperson.

Burkes Outlet CEO Matt Beall said his stores are using frequent and heightened cleaning and sanitizing procedures such as sanitizing carts, restrooms and high-traffic areas, as well as cleaning register and pin pad areas between guests. Associates at the Burkes at 1823 Glenn Blvd SW are told to wear masks. Beall said the company has extended rewards for 60 days that can be redeemed online or in-store.

Goody’s department store at 1400 DeKalb Plaza Blvd SW was in the process of closing when the state shut everything down, but they reopened earlier this month and also plan to honor existing consumer programs, including gift cards and returns, for 15 more days.

“Like many others, our business was significantly impacted by COVID-19. We temporarily closed all of our stores as we have worked to manage through this challenging environment. Despite all of our efforts, we have been unable to obtain necessary financing to continue operating as an independent business,” said Stage Stores President and CEO Michael Glazer.

Recreation is also a major quality of life factor in Fort Payne.

According to the Fort Payne Parks & Recreation Department, the Wills Valley Recreation Center and DeSoto Golf Course are both open, operating in accordance with the current guidelines from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). Opening dates remain to be decided for the athletic fields, Splash Pad and outdoor pools.

Inside the Rec Center, locker rooms, showers, steam room, sauna, basketball and racketball courts remain closed. The child care, water fountains and self-serve water stations remain closed until further notice. Additionally, staff will monitor capacity restrictions for group fitness classes.

City parks are also reopened, except for Hawkins Spring Park, which is closed for repairs.

For more information, visit the Alabama Department of Public Health website at https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/cov-faq.html.

For general COVID-19 questions, call 1-800-270-7268 or email covid19info@adph.state.al.us. Telephone calls are answered from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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