Still in the red

Unopened businesses, unanswered questions

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HONESDALE, PA — The barber pole outside of Mick Frigoletto’s shop on Main Street in Honesdale has not spun since March. Lori Brill and Suzie Calkin Frisch of Visible Changes have no idea when they’re going to book their next hair appointment. And the Honesdale Dance Studio’s Joann Florance and Jesse Perry are still trying to teach the art of dance through a computer screen.

Since Wayne County moved to Gov. Tom Wolf’s yellow phase of reopening on May 29, retail stores throughout Wayne County have been happily restocking their shelves and reopening their doors to customers. More recently, Pennsylvania permitted local restaurants a small step toward normalcy by allowing outdoor dining. Many businesses throughout the county, however, are still forbidden from opening. At press time, owners of barbershops, hair salons, dance studios, gyms, movie theaters and others are still waiting for any clues about when they’ll be able to return to work.

“They say we’re in the yellow phase, but we’re still red,” Calkin Frisch said about her livelihood and others like it.

Each of the business owners who spoke with the River Reporter about the past couple of months talked about the financial toll but emphasized the emotional side. Most struggled through tears describing what it’s been like.

Florance said she has been immersed in the dance studio since her husband passed away about one year ago. Losing the regular schedule of classes and events has cost her that valuable creative outlet.

“It really keeps me going, so it’s depressing, big time,” she said. Perry, Florance’s daughter, said that the students have lost a “second home” in the process as well.

“Many of these kids are here four days a week... they’re here from the end of school until sometimes 8 p.m.,” she said. “Some of the older kids have reached out and said it feels like they’ve lost a part of their life.”

Frigoletto, a fourth-generation barber in downtown Honesdale, has struggled going so long without seeing her regular—often lifelong—customers.

“We’re so close with some of our people, and we really miss them,” she said. “I mean there’s some people who we haven’t seen and I wonder if they’re still alive because they were sick when they were here last.”

While business owners are anxious to know when they can see those students and customers again, they say they’re still in the dark about what reopening is going to entail. Restaurants can do delivery and pickup, retail stores can do online orders and maintain social distancing; there’s no way avoiding contact when cutting somebody’s hair.

“I have been on the barber board website every day searching for information and there is none,” Frigoletto said. “It’s crickets, a ghost town.”

Brill echoed the same frustrations, saying that the board of cosmetology’s website “looks the same as it has for the past 20 years.” Florance and Perry have faced similar problems trying to get information from Dance Teachers United. In lieu of official guidance, the business owners are trying to be “proactive,” watching webinars, adjusting their workspaces and generally getting prepared for what the governor has described as a “new normal.”

The dearth of definitive answers has come after weeks and weeks of confusion, especially navigating federal relief like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

At Visible Changes, Brill and Calkin Frisch said that they’ve spent hours going through the PPP paperwork, making sure they didn’t make any mistakes. They also tried to secure an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, but when they first tried the application wasn’t available yet, and by the second attempt, the loan was eligible only for agricultural businesses.

As the county’s proprietors wait for permission to reopen, they are looking toward a difficult future. As Calkin Frisch and Brill noted, the pandemic hit just as businesses were already coming off the slow winter months. Brill said that had it been a worse winter, Visible Changes may have closed its doors for good after 32 years.

Frigoletto said that her business will suffer as a result of the pandemic this summer. For example, she said she can’t expect the influx of customers which usually comes in the form of summer camp counselors and tourists.

Florance has been able to use PPP money to pay for some bills but has been dipping into her personal savings to stay afloat. Perry said that her family’s only income through the pandemic has come from her husband, who is continuing to work. The Honesdale Dance Studio typically holds a recital in June which “carries them through the summer.” They’re expecting that will need to be a pre-recorded performance this year.

Frigoletto is hopeful that the state will soon provide business owners like her with more guidance about how to reopen safely and that people will follow the rules. She noted that it’s those who refuse to wear masks and social distance who will keep her business closed longer.

After a slow winter, nearly three months without revenue and a tough summer ahead, Calkin Frisch said that “time’s up” and that these businesses need to reopen as soon as possible.

“It’s almost too late,” she said.

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