Garry Young was among the small business owners directly impacted by shelter in place and social distancing guidelines enacted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
During the time he was closed, Young said the big question wasn’t whether his customers would return, but when he would be allowed to reopen and the health guidelines he’d be required to follow.
He never filed for federal assistance during the time he was forced to close because he said he didn’t want a loan that would put him in debt.
After word got out Young’s shop was open, he said he was working six days a week to meet the demand. He had new customers drive from Jacksonville, Fla., to his shop for a haircut because salons weren’t open there. He also had many of his regular customers make appointments.
“I know most of the people who come in here,” he said.
Young said it’s been easy for him to follow health precautions because he has no employees, meaning he can space out the time between appointments to sanitize and take all the preparations necessary for the next customer.
“My shop is small enough that I can control the number of people in here,” he said. “It’s using common sense and following guidelines.”
After the initial surge of customers, Young said he is back down to the four-day workweek he is accustomed to.
Alison Shores, director of the Camden County Chamber of Commerce, said Young’s story of his business recovering is not unusual locally.
“A lot of businesses have reopened,” she said. “Some have altered hours, but they are open. We’re hanging in there.”
Her office was still trying to evaluate the economic impact during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. While she doesn’t have numbers yet, Shores said many motels were booked and restaurants busy.
“Right now, business is good,” she said. “I’m very encouraged.”
Mardja Gray, owner of Goodbread House, a bed and breakfast inn in St. Marys, said she reopened for business about two weeks ago. She averaged a handful of customers a week, but she was totally booked for the holiday weekend.
“It was the first time I had a full house,” she said. “They are coming in slowly.”
She still hasn’t called back any of her employees to full-time work because she isn’t busy enough.
Surprisingly, guests insisted on the traditional, gourmet-like breakfasts the inn is known for when Gray told them breakfast is optional. Gray said there is enough room to serve guests in the dining room, veranda and porch to make everyone comfortable about social distancing.
Gray expects business to remain slow until the ferry shuttling passengers to Cumberland Island National Seashore reopens. And it could be weeks or longer before a ferry filled to capacity goes to the barrier island.
“You’re going to have to make a decision on what to do,” she said. “I’m grateful for the business I can get right now.”