HONESDALE, PA — “I feel alive again,” said Joyce DeBastiani, owner of the Main Street store Wallflower, which was recently permitted to open up again as Wayne County shifted to the yellow phase of reopening last Friday. “I’m back to being me, I lost that while we were closed.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has been slowly lifting stay-at-home orders and the mandated closure of non-essential businesses on a county-by-county basis. Small business owners have been anxiously awaiting the governor’s go-ahead. For DeBastiani, the waiting was the hardest part.
“It was really the fear of the unknown, we didn’t know when the end was coming,” she said, adding that she received a great deal of information and webinars from the Greater Honesdale Partnership, Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau and from her store’s suppliers. There was so much to learn, however, that DeBastiani got overwhelmed and “shutdown” herself.
“I almost felt like I curled up in a ball, and I thought I’d be stronger than that—but I wasn’t,” she said. Once the governor announced a May 22 deadline for reopening, she felt inspired “to do the homework” and “come back alive.”
Other local businesses were able to find ways to avoid closing down completely for the past two months. A few blocks up the street, Arts For Him & Her Too, a clothing store which has been around since 1948, has continued providing dry-cleaning services throughout the pandemic. Owner Tom Fasshauer said that they have had their front door reopened since May 1 but most people stayed out of the store. He called the first day under the yellow phase a “tremendous,” busy day.
Both DeBastiani and Fasshauer said it was difficult to see the big-box chain stores continue to operate through the duration of the crisis while small, local businesses were forced to shut down.
“I don’t think the governor has explained why a place like Walmart or Home Depot—the big boxes—can be open, and us smaller retailers who can manage our properties much better weren’t allowed to be open,” Fasshauer said. “I don’t know if it would’ve meant much extra business, but I don’t think that’s something that was ever explained to us.”
DeBastiani described a “breakdown of communication.” Many of the people she reached out to for information didn’t have the answers, and “everything seemed to be a moving target.” She received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep her staff employed, for example, but it was used up before she even able to reopen the store.
“I would’ve been better off to apply [for the loan] later, and then let my employees be furloughed and come back, but none of us knew this,” she said. She added, however, that whenever she reached out for help from the community, “people were there.”
There are many businesses that are still not allowed to be open right now. Gyms, hair and nail salons, massage therapists and movie theaters are among the businesses still shuttered.
During the first day back, both Art’s and Wallflower saw a large outpouring from the community. Fasshauer said he hopes that the surge in customers helps businesses make up for the past couple of months.
“It’s almost like [customers] are voting, saying, ‘We want you to be here... we were forced to do so much with big boxes, and it’s the little guys who got hurt and we’re here to support you,’” DeBastiani said. “It makes you realize why you do so many things local."
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