With the COVID-19 pandemic, personal lives have changed. For those who own or manage a local business, the impact is doubled.
Five Ripley businesses were asked what their experience has been during this unique time.
Determined to Grow - Charessa Wilkinson faced the pandemic by looking to the future and finding a way. Co-owner of Sold Sisters Realty, with her sister Amber Mouser, she also owns the distinctive I Scream Sundae. While Sold Sisters remained open, the other venture had to close.
“I knew The Scream would come back,” Wilkinson said. “It might be different, but I was determined when we were allowed to open, we’d be ready.”
When outside dining was allowed by Governor Justice, the unique ice cream shop was indeed ready.
“We added five extra tables outside which almost doubled our capacity,” Wilkinson stated. “We’ve placed the tables, along with our three inside, so that the social distancing rules were followed.”
Some other changes have been made as well.
“I’d never really thought of putting our full menu on Facebook,” Wilkinson said. “But this will allow people to have their order ready when they come. We’ve got a lot of ice cream creations, but we have decided for now to offer hotdogs as the only food item.”
Safety of the “humans,” as I Scream Sundae calls its customers, is paramount. Only one laminated menu is given per table, wait staff are masked and constant sanitizing takes place.
“We actually pulled out the chairs so we could measure the distance between tables if people are sitting,” Wilkinson explained. “I spent a lot of time with Jonathan from the health department to make sure we’re doing everything right.”
Soon, another business will be added to the Wilkinson-Mouser team. The sisters hope to open Hollow Beans, which will offer coffees, smoothies, and teas.
“We always want to grow and add to the community,” Wilkinson said. “I think people appreciate it. We had our best weekend ever when we opened back up. Lots of families are coming for the first time. They’re making memories and that’s what it’s all about.”
Going Above and Beyond - His & Her Day Spa’s owner Sharon Chandler and salon manager Stephanie Batton spent countless hours sanitizing every area of the salon to open May 4.
“The West Virginia Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists gave a three-page checklist and we have done everything on that list,” Chandler said.
Batton said even more than required was done.
“We’ve made sure everything is protected,” she said. “We keep all our supplies and products behind plastic covering just as an extra precaution.”
To make sure that all clients take safety measures seriously, a professionally produced sign outside the door outlines all the requirements.
All clients and service providers must wear masks and a waiver form must be signed. Clients can only bring in keys, cell phone and payment method. Once service is done, the client must leave the salon to allow another to come in after sanitization is completed.
“I thought I worked hard before this,” Batton said. “But there hasn’t been one day since we’ve opened that I haven’t worked 12 hours. We were very clean before but we’ve stepped it up a notch.”
The good news is that clients are more than happy to be back. When asked if business has been steady, Batton said “way more than steady.”
The full day spa will open on June 1. All skin care services, along with massage therapy, will be offered.
“We will have stringent sanitary practices,” Chandler said. “All service providers will wear masks. For massage, we’ve taken all the extra padding off the tables to make it easier to sanitize.”
There is particular relief that the day spa will be opening soon.
“For some of our people, this is their only source of income,” Batton said. “It’s been a hard two months.”
Ultimately at His & Her Day Spa, it’s all about the customers.
“We are glad to be back to work,” Chandler said. “It’s an honor and privilege and the loyalty of our clients has meant the world to us.”
Leap of Faith - When Belinda Cochran opened Just for You Primitives in 2010, it took a lot of faith and hard work. Surviving the challenges of the pandemic has taken even more.
“This business is my livelihood,” Cochran said. “To have to close on March 21 was a huge blow.”
With a lot of prayer and a bit of ingenuity, Cochran’s business has survived. She decided to do online auctions to keep moving her inventory.
“That’s what got us through,” she said. “I wasn’t able to get the payroll loan or other assistance. But God provided.”
The biggest loss that Just for You saw was the traditional Easter weekend sale.
“That has become such a big event for us,” Cochran said. “We would have hundreds of sales, huge giveaways, and lots of customers. That didn’t happen this year and we took a big hit.”
The store reopened on May 4. Business is beginning to pick up and Cochran hopes the additional tanning business now available will bring in new customers. Tanning will be offered beginning June 1.
“We have both regular bed tanning and spray tanning,” she said. “My daughter, Elizabeth Godbey, handles a large portion of that business. We offer some special pricing that will make it easy for people to afford.”
Sanitation is extremely important to both aspects of the business, but especially with tanning.
“We double clean the beds,” Cochran said. “The client is required to clean and then we come in and re-clean, using disposable paper towels. And we’ll be masked and gloved.”
For the primitive shop, Cochran spends two hours at the end of each day deep cleaning, along with regular cleaning throughout business hours.
But for Cochran, it’s not a business, it’s customer service.
“I try to follow the Golden Rule times 100,” she said with a smile. “We will do everything we can to serve our customers and make them know they’re safe to be here.”
Clients Have Become Friends - Mia Bella Hair Salon is an elegant fixture on Main Street. Owner Jordan Tennant has worked hard to make it that way.
To have to close for almost three months has been difficult because of the bond she has with her clientele.
“I’ve missed my customers so much,” she said. “You really build a relationship with them.”
During this time away from her salon, Tennant has enjoyed being with her two young sons, Kirkland and Briggs. But her business was not far from her mind.
“I was so anxious to get opened back up,” she said. “We spent a lot of time and effort getting everything ready for the clients to feel safe.”
Many guidelines are in place including one person per service allowed in the shop at one time, masks required for stylists and customers and requirement to stay outside the shop until notified to enter.
“We are constantly sanitizing everything,” Tennant said. “We were always careful but even more so now. And our customers have been very understanding and cooperative.”
While some clients want to wait just a little longer to come in, business has been brisk.
“We’ve gotten several new customers,” Tennant said. “We still can’t take walk-ins though.”
While all hair services are available, facials will not begin till spa services resume on June 1.
Toughing It Out - The Downtowner Restaurant on Court Street has long been a fixture in Ripley. Owners Dave and Melissa Adkins were determined that the pandemic was not going to change that.
“It was almost like a war that we were determined to win,” Dave said. “Or at least not go down without a fight.”
The Adkins duo decided to offer their full menu of traditional home cooked meals. With the restrictions for restaurants, they were limited to curbside and carryout orders.
“We haven’t been anywhere near our usual sales,” Dave said. “But we’ve had a lot of people support us.”
Dave gives complete credit for the eatery’s survival to his wife Melissa.
“She’s my rock and without her great cooking, we sure wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “Our quality never went down.”
While inside dining is allowed beginning May 21, The Downtowner is waiting until May 26.
“We wanted to make sure we had a good plan and had all our questions answered by Jonathan at the health department,” Dave said. “I keep thinking of questions to ask him. We will scrub everything down to make sure we’re totally ready and our employees will be back.”
Melissa says the plan is to have five booths available, along with two seats at the counter.
“We’ll be able to seat 24 people,” she said. “That’s taking care of the social distancing and not going over the 50 percent capacity we’re allowed.”
Adhering to all the guidelines has not been easy.
“Every rule has been followed,” Dave said. “We’re pretty proud that we didn’t have to close like a lot of restaurants did. We owe that to our customers and we really appreciate them.”
Along with inside dining, curbside, and takeout will continue to be available.