Donna Misra first opened the doors of Jubilee Gift Shop in Daphne on May 1, 2008. So it was somewhat poignant, after enduring six weeks of closure under a statewide health order, that she was able to reopen the doors to customers on the shop’s 12th anniversary Friday morning.
After spending the last several weeks transitioning her business to a web-based store by introducing local delivery, investing in a targeted ad campaign and posting inventory updates to social media several times per day, Misra said she was relieved some sense of normalcy was finally returning.
“Yes, I lost sales, but I did everything the opposite of most,” she said. “I did not close my doors completely, but I’ve never been on Facebook so much in my life. I upped my Google AdWords account and started delivering straight to customers’ houses on Tuesdays, so I’m alright. It’s not what I expected, but my landlord called and I was able to say ‘the check is in the mail.’”
Misra didn’t go into details, but said she relied upon a healthy nest egg and relatively low overhead costs to bridge the gap when her business was restricted, and the jobs of her four employees are secure.
“I was one of the fortunate ones who already had a website, so I decided to leverage it like I never had before,” she said. “I bought face masks and posted about it, and those went flying off the shelves. Then when people were browsing the website — while they are bored at home — they found other things they just had to have. So I’ve been very fortunate.”
Down the road, Lisette Normann said she reopened her two nine-year-old branded merchandise outlets The Fairhope Store and The Orange Beach Store the morning of May 1, but she was taking a measured approach.
“We’re taking it slow to be safe, we have hand sanitizer at the front door and all of our staff wears masks,” she said. We’re moving slowly into this and as I told the team, every bit of this is unprecedented. So we’re just going to take this day by day and if there comes a point in time when anyone in the store is not comfortable, then we’ll close again and we’ll come back when it’s safe.”
Normann’s businesses are largely dependent upon tourism, but she isn’t quite sold on ideas of the state lifting all restrictions immediately.
“You can’t lock the gate and tell people they can’t come, but at some point in time, I think that everyone should be accountable for how they are,” she said. “We’ve all been shopping in grocery stores since all this happened. So, I don’t see any reason that a small business can’t operate in the same fashion, taking the same modes of security for their customers and for their staff. There are more people wearing masks around the stores than I have seen and that’s great. We’ve all taken it very seriously and we’ve all been affected by this. But we’re very conscious of our actions and as a merchant, we’re moving slowly through this.”
Many small retail businesses, public offices and spaces are beginning to reopen across Baldwin County this weekend, after Gov. Kay Ivey allowed a statewide “stay-at-home” health order to expire April 30 and loosened some of the related restrictions.
The beaches — the biggest attraction of all — reopened, with the exception of the Alabama Point East beach on Perdido Pass, welcoming guests for the first time in six weeks. And with it, vacation management companies are beginning to accept hotel and condo bookings again.
“Most of the month of April, we were hovering around 4 percent or 5 percent occupancy on vacation rentals,” Kay Maghan of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism said. “For this weekend, we are at 18 or 20 percent and a lot of those bookings happened after the governor’s press conference on Tuesday.”
But with entertainment venues and dining in at restaurants still restricted, Maghan admitted “it may be a while” before the economy returns to its pre-pandemic levels.
“What we’re hearing so far is people are really focused on the beach,” she said. “They want to get down here and put their toes in the sand and swim in the water, and I think everyone understands that it’s not going to be normal when they come here. But once the governor allows [everything] to open we hope this all returns to more of a new normal.”
Meanwhile, she encouraged locals and visitors alike to take advantage of the amenities that are available, which include charter fishing trips, boat and beach rentals, and outdoor activities like the more than 15-mile long Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Retail shopping is coming back online and for those who don’t mind cooking, many condo or beach house rentals are equipped with full kitchens.
“I got an email today that the shops at OWA are reopening and I imagine the same thing is happening at The Wharf,” Maghan said. “The current guidelines are in effect until May 15. I know the state restaurant association is really pushing hard to do something with the restaurants and let them get some type of indoor business we just don’t know when. But obviously, we have to be smart and follow the White House guidelines and like the state health officer said Tuesday, we meet all the three criteria to reopen.”
BALDWIN COUNTY COMMISSION
On Tuesday, the Baldwin County Commission met in an emergency session to approve a phased plan to reopen county offices for face-to-face services.
In accordance with the White House and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for “Opening Up America Again, ” the plan “starts with restricted access to the highest customer volume services in the county which can be expanded quickly while mitigating the risk of COVID-19, protecting employees and vulnerable populations while serving the needs of our citizens.”
It resumes public hearing and planning meetings but reduces staff participation and attendance, requires PPE to be worn in accordance with CDC guidelines, arranges seating at least six feet apart and requests that people who speak remain outside the meeting hall until their case is called and shared surfaces be sanitized after each use.
High-volume departments including vehicle registration and tags, driver’s license renewal and recording will reopen by appointment only. Probate staff will begin scheduling face-to-face appointments one week prior, while the Phase 1 plan ensures a maximum of 10 customers in any office at one time. There are also guidelines for reopening BRATS bus service, the Council on Aging, the Baldwin County Coroner’s Office, the Board of Registrars and Animal Control in Phase 1.
Phase 2 guidelines begin after a 14-day downward trend of the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the county and will keep lobbies and common areas closed so people do not congregate. More appointments will be available at high-volume departments and limited walk-in options will be available for probate services. Appointments for other agencies will be opened as needed based on requests from customers and with input from supervisors.
Phase 3 is considered a return to normalcy, where the county will resume activities in the workplace “applying lessons-learned to better serve our communities.”
Phase 4 of the plan looks ahead to create a response plan for similar situations in the future and a review of the effectiveness of the current plan.
CITY OF FAIRHOPE
Beginning Saturday, the Fairhope municipal pier and North Beach will be reopened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The Fairhope Dog Park and city parks will open, but playground equipment will be fenced off. The Fairhope Welcome Center will also reopen, while the Quail Creek Golf Course was reopened April 27.
On May 4, the Public Works recycling and landfill will reopen to the public, along with the Mike Ford Tennis Center and the drive-up window at City Hall for cash payments only.
Contingent on state health orders, the city plans to reopen City Hall, the public works lobby, the recreation center, the Nix Center and the Fairhope Museum of History on May 14.
CITY OF FOLEY
In the city of Foley Friday, Mayor John Koniar announced plans for reopening a number of city offices on Monday, May 4. A gradual reopening of city offices is planned, beginning with the Municipal Court, lobbies at Community Development, Engineering, the Justice Center, all Fire Stations and Public Works. City curbside recycling will also resume. The lobby at Foley’s City Hall as well as permitting offices have remained open during this time.
For the time being, closures will remain at the Foley Public Library, Senior Center, Civic Center, Event Center, the Railroad Museum and the Model Train Exhibit, the Holmes Medical Museum, restrooms in city parks, basketball courts and the city event train. These will be reassessed for potential reopening on May 18.
Gatherings of 10 persons or more are still prohibited and people are asked to maintain six feet of separation. Additional updates will be posted on the city website at www.cityoffoley.org, the City of Foley Municipal Facebook page.
GULF SHORES AND ORANGE BEACH
Along the coast, officials are reminding residents and visitors that the beach reopening carries some restrictions. Gatherings must consist of less than 10 people and all beachgoers must maintain a 6-foot distance from others, excluding those living in your home.
Pools at hotels and condominiums are open, but there should still be no gatherings of more than 10 people and they must always maintain a 6-foot distance at all times. Hotel and condominium properties may implement their own policies to best manage pool access.
All public boat launches and waterways in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach remain open, as are all recreational trails, public fishing piers, golf courses, and boating. People are strongly encouraged to practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet from each other and in groups of less than 10 people.
Charter fishing is open, but boats must avoid gatherings of 10 or more clients and must keep those clients 6-feet apart. Charter operators must also regularly disinfect frequently used items and surfaces.
In Orange Beach, a section of the Alabama Point East beach, near the Perdido Pass bridge, will remain closed until further notice. The Orange Beach Aquatics Center plans to reopen on Monday, May 4th for current members only.
The Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach reopened today and will be practicing safe-distancing policies. No individual glass or clay classes are available at this time but the gift shop and gallery will resume normal hours of Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In Gulf Shores, parking at East Gulf Place, located at the intersection of East 2nd Street and East Beach Boulevard, will be available only to city of Gulf Shores residents. Proof of residency will be required. The main Gulf Place parking area near the Pink Pony Pub and the Hangout will remain closed until further notice to make necessary repairs to the boardwalk.
Beginning today, the Gulf Shores Sportsplex will be available for open space and track use only. Public restrooms within city parks will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tennis courts will reopen for recreational use.
Meanwhile, the following City facilities will remain closed to public access: Activity Center, Cultural Center, David L. Bodenhamer Recreation Center, Erie H. Meyer Civic Center, George C. Meyer Tennis Center, Gulf Shores Museum, Gulf Shores Public Library, Gulf Shores Dog Park, Kids Park, Skate Park, all outdoor basketball courts, playgrounds, all picnic pavilions, outdoor fitness equipment, drinking fountains, benches and picnic tables.
All city offices will continue to be open for business but are limiting public access. Any person or business needing to apply for a business license, building permit, submit plans for planning and zoning review, or conduct other city business should continue to do so online by visiting https://www.gulfshoresal.gov/619/Online-Services.
RESTRICTIONS STILL IN PLACE
In accordance with the state’s “safer at home” order effective today, any person who has tested positive for COVID-19 shall be quarantined to their place of residence for a period of 14 days, or other period of time as directed by the State Health Officer, or his designee, after receiving positive test results. Any person quarantined pursuant to this provision shall not leave their place of residence for any reason other than to seek necessary medical treatment.
All non-work related gatherings of 10 persons or more, or non-work related gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a consistent six-foot distance between persons from different households, remain prohibited. But “drive-in” gatherings of any size are permitted if the participants adhere to the following rules:
All participants shall remain in their vehicles for the entirety of the event;
The participants in each vehicle must all share the same household; and
Participants shall not come within six feet of participants in other vehicles.
Non-work related gathering includes church services, weddings, funeral services, social gatherings, concerts, festivals, sporting events, and similar events.
All of the following remain closed statewide through May 15:
Tourist attractions including museums, planetariums, arcades, bowling alleys and racetracks
Indoor children’s play areas and commercial and public playground equipment
Fitness centers, yoga studios and other group exercise class facilities
Massage-therapy facilities, nail, waxing, and threading salons, barber shops and hair salons, and tattoo studios
Night clubs and bars
Casinos and bingo halls, as well as venues operated by social clubs
Concert and theater venues
Spectator sporting venues
Grocery stores and pharmacies are open. Other retail stores (furniture/home furnishings; clothing, shoe and accessories; jewelry, luggage and leather goods; department stores; sporting goods stores; and book, craft and music stores, etc.) are open for in-store business but must limit shoppers to 50 percent of the store’s normal occupancy rate. Customers must practice 6-foot social distancing.
All restaurants, bars, brewery and similar establishments (such as ice cream shops and coffee shops) remain closed to dine-in customers through May 15. Many area restaurants are offering take-out, curbside pick-up or delivery.
On Thursday, Sheriff Hoss Mack issued a statement indicating any violations of the order regarding restaurants “will be documented, investigated and referred to the appropriate legal, licensing and regulatory agencies.” He did not immediately respond to a request for clarification, seeking to know whether the sheriff’s office would forcibly close violating restaurants, or who the “appropriate” agencies were that violations would be referred to, but the Alabama Department of Public Health responded to at least one illegal restaurant reopening yesterday by temporarily shutting it down.
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