Specialty stores, retail outlets and other small businesses throughout Holmes and Wayne counties enjoyed the sound of registers ringing and customers clamoring, taking advantage of Ohio’s cautious reopening earlier this month.
Thousands of businesses around Ohio closed in March and remained shuttered for seven weeks. As a result, retail sales in the United States dropped more than 16% in April due to government stay-at-home orders and fears of possible infection.
Nearly every retail segment saw sales drop during April. Clothing sales plummeted 79%, while sales of electronics and appliances dropped 61%, furniture dropped 59% and specialty store sales fell 38%.
Observers hope that April proves to be the worst month for retail sales and that consumer spending rebounds as most states begin to lift restrictions and reopen businesses.
“But what matters is the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic and whether consumers feel comfortable going out in public,” PNC Financial Services Group Chief Economist Gus Faucher said in a prepared statement. “Also, businesses continue to lay off millions of workers a week. If layoffs do not abate, and the job market deteriorates further in the near term, sentiment could again fall in the near term.”
Reopening, however, means retailers will have to deal with changes aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. Employees are wearing masks and gloves, tracking the number of customers entering stores, and wiping down fixtures with disinfectant.
The shopping atmosphere in Holmes County seems almost unchanged except for people wearing masks and efforts to maintain safe distances and sanitize surfaces.
Business has been mixed for the Village Toy Shop in Millersburg since it reopened, said store owner Tim Schlaegel, who expects things to pick up as more people return to restaurants for indoor dining, which will attract more people to town. The small toy store makes social distancing difficult, however, Schlaegel is following the sanitation guidelines.
The Village Gift Barn was once a functional dairy barn, but is now a boutique on Berlin’s east side filled with unique items for the home and garden and gifts for all ages. Employees are wearing masks in the multi-level store at U.S. Route 62 and state Route 39.
The shop, and its sister store Country Gatherings, expect to welcome back shoppers under the new health guidelines.
Many Berlin businesses were busy in mid-May when retail shops reopened, a good start for the struggling tourism economy of Holmes.
Stores along the normally busy north end of Wooster enjoyed the steady flow of traffic during the first week of the state’s reopening.
Small businesses are the economic engine driving Ohio’s economy, creating two of every three jobs, numbers from the National Federation of Independent Businesses show. There are nearly one million small businesses in Ohio, accounting for more than 99% of all employers in the state employing almost half of the entire state’s private sector workforce, according to the NFIB’s statistics.
Roger Geiger, executive director for NFIB in Ohio, said as additional sectors reopened on May 15, he was expecting 90% of all businesses being able to resume operations. As these small business owners welcome customers back, it is important to remember those still sitting on the sidelines in jeopardy of losing their businesses, he said. Geiger looks forward to when all Ohio entrepreneurs can again be open to the public.
Their employees live in the community, and entrepreneurs give back to those same communities, sponsoring the little league teams, events, and charities, he said.
“Ohioans have yet another opportunity to support their neighborhood enterprises,” Geiger said. “These small businesses and their employees are counting on the support of longtime customers and also hope to see some new faces as well. They understand the need to put safety first, for both patrons and employees … .”
The state has created a page so Ohioans can find and support their local businesses: https://ohio.org/supportlocalohio/.
The Canton Repository contributed to this report.
What to look for when you head to the store
— Plan ahead: Because of social distancing rules, shoppers might have to wait before being admitted to a store.
— Watch the floor: An assortment of markings likely will be found on floors to ensure customers know to stay 6 feet away from each other.
— Facial coverings: Store employees will be wearing masks. Shoppers are encouraged to wear masks.