ORLEANS — Things looked grim to Sid Snow, CEO of Snow’s Home and Garden, when he wrote to Health Agent Bob Canning May 22.
“I have already missed nine weeks of revenue (sales down 74 percent), two of my four best months, and Memorial weekend, which is bigger than Christmas for most all Cape businesses,” he wrote. “I totally expect the governor to extend phase 2 opening way past June 8… Like all businesses I cannot wait for that to happen and risk closing and laying off my entire staff… I would like to see the board of health work with businesses and help educate them on how to do business safely and warn them if they do not comply with reasonable strict protocols.”
Prospects were brighter by June 2, when Snow joined a virtual meeting of the board of health.
“I think a lot has changed since last night,” he said. “The governor has sent out preliminary guidance for retail. I’m encouraged by that, if everything happens the way we hope. What concerns me is if the governor changes his mind on the weekend and we’re not allowed to open. This could be disastrous if this goes on too much longer.”
Such has been the roller coaster ride both for local businesses and the town officials who regulate them. Optimistic ascents are countered by gut-wrenching descents, and no one can say with certainty what’s around the next curve.
In the midst of this, the health department and other town agencies have been working on ways to reopen restaurants, lodging, and retail safely and soon while a group of local business people collaborating as Save Our Season is expressing its vision for the new normal. Snow is part of that group, as are Selectman David Currier, board of health members Luke Chapman and John Kanaga, and several other business owners.
In his communication with Canning, Snow attached an extensive store operations plan (“March 20, 2020 to Reopening”) so full of details about his company’s response to the pandemic that it should be preserved at the Centers for History and Culture in Orleans. The 41-page document begins with the March 20 retail store closure ordered by Gov. Baker, but even on that day Snow’s was open to provide curbside pickup of paint for contractors, who were considered an essential business. By April 10, in-stock product was up on the website and curbside pick-up had begun three days a week, expanded to four days on April 25 and eventually to six. Planning and construction continued for in-store distancing and shields at registers, along with much more work behind the scenes.
“I am phasing in with a strict limit of customers after June 8,” Snow wrote to Canning May 22. “I will not allow customers that want to browse, and each customer will be escorted with entire safe distance and protocols outlined in my plan. Because if I do not reopen, then the odds of sustainability of our 133 year old business will be very slim.”
“We are working the hardest we can to have businesses open under the easiest possible terms,” health board member Sims McGrath said, “but we can’t change what the state sends us as requirements.”
At Canning’s suggestion, the board voted to recommend that parking requirements be eased so restaurants could provide outside seating while full capacity is not allowed indoors. That decision would be up to the planning board or zoning board. Canning said he’s working with other town departments to develop a self-certification check-off process for restaurants that would streamline permitting for outside dining.
The discussion expanded to include temporary expansion of liquor licenses to outdoor premises as well as outdoor entertainment, but McGrath noted such issues were the concern of the selectmen. That board planned to discuss the Save Our Season group’s recommendations at its meeting last night (June 3).
“Everyone is very positive in trying to move forward to do what we can to assist the business owners,” Canning said. “It may not be exactly what Save Our Season is (recommending), but I’m sure many of those (ideas) will be incorporated.”
“None of the people we’ve spoken with have said, ‘Give me an inch so I can take a mile,’ Kanaga said. “It’s ‘Give me an inch so I can survive. This isn’t carte blanche. This is trying to get everybody together so businesses can survive.”