As Johnson City businesses reopen, some owners remain cautious

As Johnson City businesses reopen, some owners remain cautious

That means his plan to partially reopen his downtown shop next week now seem fairly set in stone.

“We’re in it,” he joked. “That’s about the most expiration-date-oriented thing we carry.”

As part of his phased reopening of the Tennessee economy, Gov. Bill Lee allowed restaurants and retailers to start reopening under specific guidelines on April 27 and April 29, respectively. The state has released new guidance for various sectors over the course of the past month, and many businesses in Johnson City have now opened their doors with precautions.

But Nelson, who owns both Dos Gatos and Nelson Fine Art, is one of at least a handful of Johnson City business owners who have kept theirs doors closed, citing continued concerns about transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Tennessee was one of the earliest states to do something like this,” Nelson said of the reopening, adding that the state’s reliance on sales tax revenue could have been a factor. “I think the decision to open up was less safety related and more we-need-money related.”

Nelson Fine Art, a custom frame shop in downtown, is partially open and is seeing customers by appointment only. Nelson’s coffee shop is currently closed, but he’s hoping to start serving beverages again next week through a walk-up window at the back of the building.

For now, the doors of the shop will remain closed to customers. Nelson said he doesn’t have a specific date in mind to reopen them.

Before the business starts its altered service next week, Nelson said he’s asked the roughly nine employees who work at the coffee shop to get tested for COVID-19.

Nelson said he’s not yet comfortable reopening to the extent allowed by the governor’s guidelines, noting that the shop is located inside a narrow building.

“We’re certainly concerned about our community, and we’re also concerned about our baristas,” Nelson said. “We’re called ‘essential workers,’ but, I mean, it’s coffee. We want to keep everybody safe. We don’t want to run any risks for anybody, and we feel like the safest way to do that is by not allowing people inside for now.”

Chris Cates, co-owner of Little Animals Brewery, is also maintaining partial service at his downtown business.

The brewery’s taproom is closed, but the business has continued selling beer to-go. Customers can place their orders online or through a no-contact, in-person transaction.

Cates said the primary reason Little Animals Brewery has kept its taproom closed is because the business is almost out of beer. Cates said to-go sales have been so successful that the brewery has sold out of almost everything it has.

Little Animals Brewery is working hard to replenish its supply, but even if the brewery was fully stocked, Cates said he’s wary of reopening the taproom, adding that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“It’s highly possible that (reopening) is OK,” Cates said. “But it’s just as likely it’s not OK. Health experts say there’s a high potential for a spike in cases, and I believe there very well could be a spike in cases.

“I really hope there isn’t, but when you consider the fact that we’re doing OK and remaining in business with our to-go sales, it would not make any sense for us to take an unnecessary risk.”

Cates said the brewery reevaluates its options every couple of weeks. If mid- to late-June seems safe, and health experts determine there won’t be a spike in cases, Cates said the brewery may open with precautions — maintaining a cap on the number of people, spacing out seating and asking employees to wear masks, among other safeguards.

After initially eyeing June 1 as the start for a phased reopening of her downtown business, Teri Dosher, owner of the Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room, is now looking at reopening for to-go orders only on June 15. The shop would be operating under shortened hours and won’t feature live performances for a while.

She’s waiting to see how the number of new cases shakes out, and wants to ensure her employees can be tested. At other businesses, Dosher said she’s heard stories about people not following guidelines and being rude to employees because they were wearing face masks, which has also made her apprehensive.

Dosher said she weighs the pros and cons of reopening just about every day.

“But my list of reasons to be cautious … is so much greater than the reasons to open right now,” she said.

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