Normal, normal, what is normal?
Life in its normalcy was tossed topsy-turvy in mid-March when business shutdowns, social distancing mandates, limits on numbers for gathering and much more were thrust upon the world in varying levels, depending on the location.
Holyoke businesses have navigated the uncharted territory of being slammed with panic-buying, being closed, being partially open with mandates or anxiously awaiting the go-ahead to reopen.
All this while watching the quickly escalating numbers of cases and deaths of COVID-19 patients getting closer and closer to home.
Holyoke saw its girls basketball team return from the state tournament when it was shut down after one game Thursday, March 12.
Restaurants, bars, salons, theaters and gyms were closed, effective March 17, and group gatherings were limited to 50 persons and later to 10 in the state of Colorado. This affected churches in a huge way in the midst of the Lenten season.
Schools were closed for two weeks, then six weeks and finally for the rest of the school year.
The March 26 stay-at-home order for Coloradans further defined critical and noncritcal businesses, shutting down more local entities through April 26.
Small steps in opening the economy occurred with the April 27 transition to Colorado’s safer-at-home phase in which some restrictions were lifted.
But a number of local businesses, including churches, still await the reopening opportunity that has not yet been allowed.
On May 25, the State will make decisions on levels of reopening, and after June 1, it will be determined if Safer at Home can be further modified.
Meanwhile, plexiglass partitions, hand sanitizer, face masks and more have worked themselves into normal routine.
Preparations made for anticipated reopenings
Restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, salons and churches were among the first to find themselves rerouting a new normal, and (with the exception of salons) they’re still not allowed to fully open the businesses or congregate en masse.
Most local restaurants have maintained carry-out business, and the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce has done a phenomenal job of providing delivery service on Fridays and Saturdays for the local eateries.
The Peerless Theatre has even maintained a presence by making weekend carry-out concessions available. Holyoke Fitness Club has offered online Zoom classes, and churches are attempting to use various forms of digital platforms to reach their congregations.
But it’s not the same, and most are adjusting procedures and protocols as they anticipate a reopening.
Peerless Theatre manager Sherry Simms said she’s worked with Northeast Colorado Health Department to make sure she knows the guidelines so the theater is ready to open when they get the go-ahead.
Anticipating a potential of opening at 25% capacity, Simms said they have seats blocked off to be in line with social distancing. That leaves 40 seats available.
Movie companies are not releasing any new movies until July 1, so if the theater is able to open sooner, older movies will be shown. Companies are offering decent prices for movies, and Simms said the Peerless will be opening with no ticket pricing and will rely solely on concessions for income.
Additionally, companies will allow them to stack movies, meaning they can show one title at 2 p.m. and a different one in the evening. That has not been allowed in the past.
All employees will wear masks, and Simms said they will be requiring movie patrons to wear masks to enter the facility.
Pastor Gary Rahe of Zion Lutheran Church in Holyoke said it’s hard to keep the spiritual strength of a church family where it needs to be when in-person gatherings are so limited.
When the initial group gathering limit was 50, he was prepared to offer multiple services in order to accommodate his congregation. When it dropped to 10, that changed the plan.
“Zion has a large sanctuary, and we could easily seat 70 with social distancing,” Rahe added. His concern is that the voice of church leaders has not been part of the decision-making statewide.
“We realize how important our relationships in the faith are — it is a vital time,” Rahe said.
Rahe said he looks forward to looking out at his congregation with a smile to say “good morning.”
Closing of churches has limited any funeral services to graveside to keep the crowd size down.
Jan Baucke at Baucke Funeral Home said that families have been very accepting in working with the directives of the times.
However, it’s an altogether different type of service and doesn’t bring the same kind of closure for families when community members, as well as extended family, don’t have the opportunity to share hugs and handshakes.
Restaurants have come up with creative ways to be part of the chamber’s community cruise night and to offer take-out options as well.
While that’s kept them busy, to a certain degree, it’s not the same as running with full staff and serving in house.
Anticipating that reopening guidelines will still limit numbers, Allyn Robinson of Happy Jacks Barbeque said his dining room should be big enough to accommodate 25%-50% capacity. He noted that some will be fearful of socializing even when they can, so he anticipates carry-out numbers to continue.
Now he said he’s running into supply line problems, so everyone is going to need to be flexible and maybe change their menu choices.
Angie Hofmeister, owner of The Skillet Restaurant, said they have tried to be creative, to offer new specials and menu items, while maintaining their standard menu in the take-out mode. Some specials have included lasagna night, weekend long john and doughnut sales, and more.
Once they know the mandates for reopening, Hofmeister said they will be able to determine a plan for social distancing within the restaurant. Outside dining could be an alternative, but regulations would need to be approved for that, as well.
Holyoke Fitness Club owner Trisha Herman is currently looking at classification of personal services (trainer) as she contemplates reopening the gym. Her dilemma is that it will actually cost her money to be open with the guideline of one trainer/employee with four clients.
Her staff has been extremely supportive, and she’s had a couple work out while they’re prepping/cleaning/sanitizing in preparation for potential reopening.
Also serving as executive director of Phillips County Economic Development Corporation, Herman is well aware of the significance of following guidelines.
Every county is very different with regard to waivers and permission required. Herman’s suggestion is to call the health department which will give direction to the person who can help. “Don’t assume anything unless you get permission from the health department,” Herman added.
Moving forward, Herman emphasizes the importance of realizing that things can change on a daily basis. Data used by Gov. Jared Polis next week will determine whether Safer at Home will give way to fewer restrictions or whether the state will return to Stay at Home status.
Partial reopenings resume
Guidelines were eased several weeks ago when nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen with a number of restrictions still in place.
Creative Traditions owner Julie Haake said her quilting shop was closed for six weeks. She had numerous customers indicate that they would certainly include her in the “essential” category when it comes to business.
She chose to approach a soft reopening. Guidelines said she could open for curbside service April 27, with the store opening with social distancing on May 1.
She combined the guidelines and her own plan, providing curbside service for a week and by-appointment service for the next week before reopening her doors.
She still follows the 10-person limit in her store. While masks are not mandatory, she prefers customers wear them.
Many see her shop as a social destination as well as a retail store. It’s been hard to lose those quilting sessions and classes that are so key to the makeup of her business.
Through the unprecedented pandemic, Haake pointed out that people were at home and grew accustomed to online shopping as it became an important piece of what they did. “I would hope people would go back to supporting our local businesses as they reopen,” she added.
Springtime is usually a good time for the real estate market, noted Julie Wiebke of Lighthouse Real Estate. However, the pandemic mandates have curbed that.
While it was a big year last year, everything stopped in mid-December, Wiebke pointed out. With real estate in a bit of a lull, realtors were hopeful for an upswing in the spring, and then the pandemic hit suddenly.
For about a month, no showings of properties were allowed but listings could still be taken. With the springtime limitations, Wiebke said, it’s really hard to tell where sales will go at this point. She personally anticipates that in this area people will be careful but will go forward with life.
Salons were allowed to reopen the first of the month, but guidelines were extensive from the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which some other businesses are not obligated to. This was crucial for salons since DORA holds the individual licenses.
A 20-page DORA document of guidelines was not easy to navigate. Each salon has its own specific rules regarding protocol and procedure for entering the premises. Masks must be worn by clients and providers, according to the DORA regs.
Playing catch-up from being closed was huge in the salons, as well as other businesses that had a regular client appointment schedule.
Grocery store open through it all
“It has been crazy,” admits Holyoke Marketplace co-manager Jill Fiedler, in an essential business that has provided steadfast service through the pandemic.
Fiedler said the first-week sales increased exponentially as people were buying things up. It started with a shortage of toilet paper, then hand sanitizer, then eggs, then meat — the list goes on.
“But we always get a big truck,” said Fiedler, noting that they’re keeping the store stocked.
Online shopping, which they’ve had in place for over a year, really increased. Fiedler said they appreciated that as it’s easier to manage because people are buying more, less often.
Local people made homemade masks for the staff, which was much appreciated. Fiedler said they’ve had many people express kind words of appreciation for them being open, and that means a lot. “We have a good community of support,” she added.
Fiedler praised Marketplace owners Brad and Jill Moline, noting they’re good bosses and very supportive. “We’re lucky to have jobs,” she acknowledged.
While there are weird waves of purchasing and fear levels, Fiedler said she feels a little more comfortable now, two months into the pandemic, that it’s going to be OK — perhaps weird for a while, but OK.