MONROE — Gale Pandow, owner of Tropical Exposure Spa & Salon in Brodhead, counts herself among the lucky ones because her business is well-established.
“It was two months and six days that we were ordered closed. Luckily we’ve been in business for 25 years. So at least we had that going for us,” she said May 28, two days after her business reopened. Statewide public health orders that shut down many businesses in March to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have been lifted.
Now, those businesses are navigating how to reopen safely.
At Tropical Exposure, stylists wear face masks and face shields. The salon has six full-time and two part-time employees.
“We’ve asked everyone including the customers to wear a mask. We just want to follow the guidelines set by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” Pandow said. There’s a sanitization station at the entrance and disposable masks for any customer who wants one, “but for the majority, they’re bringing in their own masks.”
Costumers aren’t mandated to wear a mask, however anyone not wearing a mask won’t get blowdryer services. Pandow said she made this decision based on advice from public health officials who say blowdryers can spread COVID-19 by forcefully blowing air — and infectious droplets — close around a person’s face.
The evidence for wearing a mask has evolved as scientists study and learn more about the transmission of COVID-19, the contagious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Widespread use of cloth face coverings is now recommended to help prevent transmission of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t know it. Experts say an infected person who hasn’t yet developed symptoms can spread the virus, and that some people who have the disease never show symptoms.
Pandow is taking other precautions at Tropical Exposure, too, like changing the seating area to allow for social distancing.
Two days into reopening, “it’s just like it’s normal to be wearing the masks” and the salon feels more relaxed, Pandow said. So far, customers are complying with the rules — and excited to come back. Appointments are booked out for two months.
After two months under safer-at-home orders, “we’re trying to make them feel good again,” she said. Some of the guys have so much hair grown out that after the stylist is done, “it looks like you clipped a lady’s hair there’s so much hair on the ground.”
Oscar Vigil, owner of Luna Maya Mexican Restaurant in Monroe, cautiously opened his dining area at 50% on May 20. On one hand, his personal opinion is the “Safer at Home” order should have lasted two or three more weeks. On the other, “I’m losing money each month, each day.”
During the “Safer at Home” order, he continued offering carryout meals but his sales were down 35-40%.
“The people, the community, tried to help all the restaurants but it was not the same,” he said. He tried hiring a delivery driver but the driver quit after not making enough in tips. Two of his servers got jobs in cheese factories, one went back to Mexico and another quit due to her pregnancy.
One day, while “Safer at Home” was still in effect, he noticed a group of his regular customers eating their meal outside by their car. So he brought them a table to eat on, “to make like a picnic table in the parking lot.”
Now he’s trying to achieve the same effect of socially distanced dining inside by only seating customers at every other table. He’s also looking to hire more servers as business picks up. The employees all wear masks, and the waitstaff wear face masks and gloves.
“Everybody is OK with it. ... It’s for their own safety and for the safety of the customers,” he said.
Like Vigil, Suisse Haus owner Dan Schindler said carryout only provided a fraction of his restaurant’s normal sales.
“We’re probably at a third to 40% of normal business,” Schindler said. He had to lay off 11 of his 14 employees during the “Safer at Home” order, but was able to partly cover their wages through the Paycheck Protection Program.
One issue is “there’s not much money in food,” especially as some ingredients get more expensive, he said. Profits come from sales of soda, bags of chips, liquor and beer. Theoretically he could have sold carryout six-packs of beer during the shutdown, but “nobody’s going to come to me to buy a six-pack” when they can go to a liquor store or gas station.
Carryout — and Suisse Haus’ new take-and-bake pizzas — “held us through. It’s pushed us to stay on track.” Schindler opened the restaurant back up May 26 and was feeling optimistic about it.
“I feel like we’re going to get such an influx of Dane County people and Illinois people that that should keep us moving forward,” he said.
Schindler isn’t requiring Suisse Haus employees to wear masks but said he’d provide them masks if they want to wear them.
He is skeptical of how useful masks are in practice, however. He recently went to a restaurant in another county where the waitstaff “were constantly fidgeting with their masks” and not changing gloves.
“All it did was make the customer feel awkward,” he said. At Suisse Haus, “I’m just going to sanitize everything periodically” and have staff wash “more frequently than they ever have.”
Even more frequent than usual sanitization is also the rule at Anytime Fitness in Monroe, which reopened at 4 p.m. May 20.
“We actually had people coming in a little earlier. People were eager to come in,” said Khendra Johnson, member experience manager at the 24-hour gym. She was furloughed since March.
The rule for using cardio equipment is every other machine and gym members are also asked to practice social distancing in the weights area and wipe down equipment before and after each use. Staff also clean every hour, and “we have a ton of hand-sanitizing stations,” Johnson said.
For those who don’t feel safe being out in public spaces, memberships can be frozen.
“We’re trying to be empathetic with that... We’re taking it day by day. We’re just being adaptable,” Johnson said. And for “those who are ready to rock ‘n’ roll, we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll with them.”
At Leisure Lanes, the bowling alley on 6th Avenue in Monroe, owner Dan Goepfert said he was able to keep all of his full-time employees during the shutdown. He kept them busy with cooking carryout meals and cleaning, scrubbing, polishing and painting.
“Anything we could find to clean, we did it,” Goepfert said. Since the business opened back up May 20, he’s spacing chairs, taping lines on the floor to indicate the recommended six-foot distance and having customers bowl in every other lane “so there’s plenty of room between everybody.”
When it comes to sanitization, “we’re doing everything we can,” right down to cleaning out each finger hole in the bowling balls between use. He’s not requiring masks but said he’s seen some customers wearing them.
Business has been slow, but it’s also a slow time of year for bowling. He’s been seeing a lot of signups for Leisure Lanes’ outdoor beanbag leagues, however.
“We’re trying to make it as comfortable as possible for people. ... It would be nice for people to give it a chance. We’re doing everything we can,” he said.
Not all businesses are choosing to open up. The Monroe Den rollerskating rink announced May 23 that “for the health and safety of our amazing staff, skaters and their families, it has been decided that we will continue to be closed until further notice.”
Owner Jim Becker said his decision to stay closed is based on what’s best for his main customers — school children — and is guided by how public schools are responding to the pandemic.
“I’m not sure how you could do social distancing in a skating rink. The kids are moving constantly,” Becker said. “Maybe at some point we might start with small groups, but ... right now I have to take the stand for the health of everybody.”
Becker owns several other businesses in the area, including a couple of KK Lawn & Sport locations and a CBD processing plant where they’re researching a new CBD-infused hand sanitizer. In Monroe, he also owns Hardware Hank and the attached ice cream parlor, Swirl Station, where the floor is taped to help people socially distance and employees can choose to wear a mask or not.
This kind of business diversification helps Becker. If he only owned the roller rink, he said, “I don’t know what I’d do.”
He’s grateful for the support the community has shown local businesses in the past few months.
“You hear people come in and say, ‘I want to do my business local.’ That’s been fabulous,” he said. When people choose to shop small and shop local, “that’s truly appreciated.”