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Small business owners discuss challenges of reopening

Hank Hayes • May 10, 2020 at 6:15 PM

KINGSPORT — If you’re a small business owner impacted by COVID-19, when and how should you reopen?

Five small business owners attempted to answer that question during a “Recover Together: Reopening Discussion and Best Practices” Zoom meeting organized by the Kingsport Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Hollie Taylor, owner of Kingsport’s Hair Benders Salon, said her business is giving customers 30-minute reminders before their appointment and then sends a text message when a stylist becomes available.

“Then they come in and wash their hands,” Taylor said.

Victoria Cunningham, owner of Kingsport’s Flight Athletic Academy, said her business has been offering classes via Zoom until people are comfortable coming back into her building

“I didn’t want to open and then have to walk it back,” she said.

The business has changed signage to direct people to wash their hands, opened doors so people won’t have to touch handles and takes payments over its website to minimize contact.

“We’ve done our best to make sure the gym does not look cluttered in any way. At every event, we have a sanitizing station,” Cunningham pointed out.

David Read, owner of Cranberries, a Johnson City food service business, emphasized employees are tested and quizzed as they come in.

“That part is easy,” Read stressed. “We’re wiping down everything we take to the customer. We do a lot of credit cards. We deliver curbside right now. We have a wipe for their pen. We’re wearing gloves and a mask.

“We’re trying to pay attention to what seems like ordinary tasks to make (people) as healthy as possible. People are saying (the governor) is going to make you open. That only leaves us seven tables. We don’t have a drive-thru window. It’s just a logistics nightmare.”

Nick Bianchi, owner of Lost State Distilling in Bristol, Tennessee, has been able to pivot his business from making liquor to hand sanitizer.

“It’s been a good little pivot for us. We’ve been incredibly busy,” Bianchi said. “We’re making 980 gallons a week, and pretty much all of it is spoken for after we have it made.”

Michael Howell, owner of Riverside Taphouse in Elizabethton, said he’s transitioned from on-premise to off-premise sales.

“It was tough for us because we do have a small venue, but we have a large outdoor seating area that doubles our capacity,” he said. “We were looking forward to having that, and then we had to close down for two weeks.”

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