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Some businesses adapt, others forced to close their doors temporarily, during virus outbreak

Local stores and restaurants are doing their best to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

Many have their employees wearing masks, sanitizing shopping carts and counters, and urging customers to stay at least six feet apart. Others have restricted indoor access to employees only and are meeting their customers curbside. Still others have closed completely, placing a premium on safety.

In downtown Gloucester and Mathews, fewer cars are on the streets during business hours, and potential customers are often being met with ‘closed’ signs. The Gazette-Journal spoke with a few businesses just to take their temperature—to see how they’re doing in these perilous times. We were impressed with the creativity, resilience, and community spirit of many local businesses.

Southwind Pizza

Dean Tsamouras, owner of Southwind Pizza, said business at the restaurant is down by about 70 percent, but that’s still better than the Yorktown Pub and Hole in the Wall, two restaurants he’s had to close during the pandemic. In spite of that, he said, he’s enjoying working because the people of Mathews have been so kind and supportive. They’re ordering carryout, but they’re still tipping the staff, he said. One lady even sent “a bunch of money” to the kitchen. Tsamouras said he’s mainly staying open to serve the community and to keep his staff employed, and to those ends, he’s going to be open seven days a week during the statewide shutdown.

Olivia’s in the Village
and Scoot’s BBQ

Gary Ward and his wife, Karen, own two restaurants in Gloucester—Olivia’s in the Village downtown and Scoot’s BBQ at Gloucester Point. Of the two, he said, Scoot’s is doing extraordinarily well during the coronavirus lockdown. Already set up for a large number of takeout orders, Scoot’s menu was altered to add more bulk, family-style selections, and the work flow was reworked a bit to better accommodate the social distancing required these days, with a canopy tent from Aaron’s Rental added outside for customers to check in via walkie-talkie.

“We just adapted on the fly,” said Ward. “For such a bad situation, it’s been a good feeling to see everybody come together to create a new system and watch it work.”

It was more of a challenge to evolve Olivia’s into a takeout spot, and the loss of regular customers in the downtown workforce has caused lunch to slow down. Breakfast was also temporarily eliminated. But to offset those losses, the Wards added something they’ve been wanting to try for a while—a retail grocery component. For years they had discussed establishing a butcher shop on Main Street, but it just hadn’t happened. Now they’re offering rib-eye steaks, ground beef, chicken, and a broader range of items typically found in a grocery store—even toilet paper. The customer orders online, and employees bag it and take it out to the car. The new feature was kicked off Monday, and Gary said it’s going well. “Toilet paper’s been crazy,” he said.

“All the orders go back to the kitchen,” he said, “You might hear, ‘We need ground beef, two toilet papers, and a paper towel.’ It’s so different and bizarre.”

Sandy Creek Pet Resorts

Sandy Creek Pet Resorts owner John Holt said that with people staying at home there aren’t as many pets as usual at the kennel on Burkes Pond Road in Gloucester, but he is still providing essential services such as pet day care for doctors and nurses and other people who continue to work. He said he also houses pets for people who are in the hospital, providing pick-up and delivery as necessary.

During the slowdown, he’s been able to maintain much of his regular staff, who are busy doing yearly maintenance on the facility. He said he anticipates his numbers to pick back up once people are no longer on lockdown and are able to travel to visit relatives or take the vacations they’ve put on hold.

M&M Building Supply

Kathryn Tatterson of M&M Building Supply in Mathews said business has been steady, with people buying items that usually aren’t big sellers in the store, such as tomato seeds and toilet paper. Employees have been working hard to limit the number of customers to 10 at a time and to maintain the social distancing standards set by the state, she said. While orders have been placed for various types of masks, Tatterson said it’s been hard to obtain them, but she expects a supply of cloth masks to be delivered soon.

Short Lane Ice Cream

Toni Childress, who owns Short Lane Ice Cream along with her husband Barry, said the small, independent shop, just south of Gloucester village, is providing curbside and outdoor delivery in the parking lot so that both customers and employees can feel comfortable and safe. She said she’s grateful for the overwhelming support Short Lane has gotten from the community. Many people have made special trips to support the business because they want to see it continue, she said.

Because Short Lane is a seasonal business, Childress usually starts training her summer crew in March, but under the circumstances she can’t maintain that many employees, so she still has her winter crew in place. She and her husband, both of whom still have other jobs, jump in as needed. Childress said she and her crew are trying to be creative and continue to “supply lots of happy ice cream.”

Island Stop Market

Dib Goodrich of Island Stop Market at Port Haywood said that since the COVID-19 crisis began overall sales are down at his small independent convenience store, gas station, and deli. “Gas prices are good, but there’s no place to go,” he said. But the store’s sales of freshly cut meats, which are heavily promoted on social media by the butcher, have remained good, as have sales of deli foods and homemade baked goods.

Ware Neck Produce

Bryan Kurten, employee at Ware Neck Produce on Gloucester’s Main Street, said that business has been good at the open-air market, with “a lot of happy customers.” He said the market has plenty of stock, including eggs. A lot of people are “shopping local,” and the market is seeing a lot of first-time customers, said Kurten, possibly causing an increase in business over this time last year. Employees are wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and working to keep the market clean and sanitary, he said, including nightly cleaning and disinfecting of food baskets.

Put-In-Creek Carvings

Sitting on the sidewalk in front of his small art shop, Put-In-Creek Carvings, Ben Richardson said he doesn’t get enough business on a good day to break the 10-person rule, but it’s been even slower since the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. “It’s a sad thing,” he said.