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Many SC retailers start to reopen after Gov. McMaster relaxes coronavirus closures

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Sneaker store to reopen

Customers line up outside Cola Kicks sneaker store in Columbia's Five Points neighborhood shortly before it was due to reopen on Tuesday. Mike Fitts/Staff

Some retail shops in South Carolina have begun to reopen in the wake of Gov. Henry McMaster's lifting of a closure order, welcoming back customers while putting in measures intended to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

Store owners who were reopening said being shut down was a financial hardship and seemed eager to allowing a limited number of shoppers inside their doors — assuming customers are ready to come out. 

Sandler's Diamonds and Time is set to reopen its Columbia and Mount Pleasant stores on Wednesday, though owner Victor Sandler wonders how many people will be ready to browse the merchandise right now.

"I'm very skeptical about it but we will see. Who needs jewelry now?" he asked.

Other retailers were more enthusiastic.

The owner of Britton's clothing store on Devine Street in Columbia was cleaning and preparing to open even as the governor was making his announcement. The shop would continue to take safety precautions after opening Tuesday, allowing only 15 people to be in the store at a time, including the staff, said Stacy Levinson. 

"Safety is first and foremost," Levinson said. 

The governor's order, which went in effect at 5 p.m. Monday, requires stores to limit themselves to either 20 percent of regular occupancy levels or five customers per 1,000 feet of space, whichever is less. 

Levinson said she is glad to be getting the high-end clothing store open again after the hardship of being closed for a month. To help the community amid the pandemic, the store will donate 10 percent of its sales to a local charity in the coming months, starting with in-home meal providers Senior Resources.

Cola Kicks, a sneaker shop in Columbia's Five Points neighborhood, had a line of customers waiting outside shortly after it reopened to customers Tuesday morning. The store's reopening announcement on social media said that the number of shoppers inside would be limited and that extra cleaning would be taking place every hour.

When announcing his change in orders on Monday, McMaster emphasized that he thought safety and increased business could coexist in the state, even while acknowledging that the coronavirus outbreak remains serious and precautions need to continue. 

"We want to do as much damage as possible to the virus while doing the least possible damage, at least long-term damage, to our businesses," he said. 

McMaster's executive order specified that specific categories of stores were allowed to reopen — including department stores, furniture and clothing retailers, florists and flea markets. Many of these shops have been open only for curbside service or have closed entirely.

The governor's order did not reopen close-contact businesses such as hair stylists, nail salons, gyms and theaters.

Even with the order lifted, some retailers are continuing to be cautious about reopening.

Department store Belk will reopen its 35 South Carolina locations on May 1, subject to local recommendations, according to spokeswoman Jenny Anderson. Stores will open initially with hours from noon to 6 p.m. and with all recommended safety precautions in place, including a limit on the number of shoppers allowed in the store, she said.

Megan Fink, a spokeswoman for Palmetto Goodwill, said its 31 retail stores in 18 coastal and Midlands counties will reopen Saturday, and its career centers will reopen Monday. It was already deemed an essential business by McMaster but voluntarily closed in March. With word this week that other retailers would be opening from the governor, "the timing seems right," Fink said.

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Though its resale locations have been closed, Goodwill has still been receiving donated goods. Limited staff have been sanitizing donations. Fink said when doors open, the retail stores should be fully stocked. Customers will notice some changes, like limits on how many people can be inside at once and directional signage.

"We want to make sure we're protecting our community," Fink said.

And given Goodwill's purpose helping people get back to work, its services are more important than ever during coronavirus. Revenue from the retail stores funds the career centers.

Half-Moon Outfitters, which operates stores in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, said its stores were open Tuesday only for curbside service.

Katherine Smith, the company's marketing director, said the sporting goods retailer was not ready to open its doors to customers just yet. The staff, she said, was busy restocking the stores and ensuring they had the right safety measures in place for when business does resume.

Half-Moon locations will have hand sanitizer available at the entrances to the stores, and the employees will police how many customers are in the stores at one time.

Though music stores have been allowed to reopen, one of the state’s oldest, the nearly century-old Fox Music in North Charleston, can’t get fully back to business. After having to furlough the entire staff last week, reopening the doors isn’t really an option, general manager Joseph Fox said Tuesday.

“We just don’t have the capacity to open right now,” Fox said.

The store has been selling some keyboards during the closure, which Fox delivers to customers’ houses. But $700 keyboard sales can’t make up for a loss of $7,000 piano sales. The business has also absorbed tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue from piano rentals because of the cancellation of Charleston’s Spoleto Festival USA — Fox Music was supposed to supply 27 pianos for the event — combined with the postponement of weddings.

Fox said he’s confident the business will come back. Weddings will get rescheduled and churches, another top customer, will reopen. Until the store can get funding from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, the pool of forgivable funding that small businesses can use to cover payrolls, Fox can’t bring employees back.

Ed's Editions, a West Columbia bookstore, will not reopen its doors immediately. The store will wait until the evidence that the spread of the virus is ebbing becomes more clear, said Irene Albritton. Once that is clear, the store will open with reduced hours, she said.

While it has been closed to shoppers, the bookstore has seen an increase in online sales, which already had been providing about half of the store's business, she said. 

Mr. K's Used Books in North Charleston plans to open sometime next week and is putting together a plan to keep customers and employees safe, said Kit Gilson, managing director of the family owned business. Staffers will wear masks and encourage customers to keep six feet of separation.

"We'll only reopen if we can ensure there's a shopping experience that is safe for our staff and customers," she said.

The store has offered pick-up services while it has been closed, but Gilson said the service was not highly publicized and was only useful if customers knew specifically what they were looking for. "The allure of a bookstore is being able to come in and browse, and we haven't been able to offer that," she said.

Over at the normally bustling Mount Pleasant Towne Centre, remained eerily desolate with nearly every storefront locked Tuesday, including anchor tenant Belk. The early afternoon  traffic was limited to a couple of joggers and a landscaping crew. 

David Wren, Emily Williams, Mary Katherine Wildeman and Andy Brown contributed to this report. 

Follow Mike Fitts on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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