It’s not yet business as usual, but it’s a start.
Businesses in Rabun County are slowly opening again after weeks of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some shopkeepers have opened their storefronts to customers and several local restaurants are allowing patrons to eat in their dining rooms once again.
Many stores and restaurants closed partially while still offering online ordering, curbside pickup and drive-thru carry out services.
The reopening is a welcome site for many customers and workers.
“I have staff that needs work,” said Bonnie Edmonds, owner of Clayton Café on Main Street, about why she chose to reopen indoor dining services.
Edmonds said that another deciding factor was the feedback from customers through text messages, calls and notes asking when Clayton Café was going to reopen.
She said that customers told her they were tired of cooking and they “just want to be able to come and sit down.”
“I took all that into consideration,” Edmonds said.
She noted that the safety of customers and employees is foremost and told staff members they did not have to come back if they did not feel comfortable doing so.
Edmonds said she told employees that their jobs would still be there when they decided to come back.
Some customers are hesitant to dine inside, so their takeout business is still booming.
“75 percent of our business is still takeout and curbside,” Edmonds said.
She said that they would continue to stay open “as long as we are social distancing.”
Valley Café and Catering
Customer feedback was the deciding factor for Duncan Cooper, owner of Valley Café in Dillard, in reopening indoor dining.
“Customers and employees told us they wanted us to reopen,” Cooper said. He said that they reopened the first day Gov. Brian Kemp gave the green light, which was last Monday.
Cooper emphasized that the governor made the reopening optional, so business owners who are wary of reopening do not have to do so.
In turn, customers do not have to utilize the dining room if they don’t feel comfortable.
He said that the drive-thru is still open and getting a lot of traffic even though the dining room is open.
“The customers are starting to come back slowly,” Cooper said.
He said that he appreciates how generous patrons have been with tips in the drive-thru and that he feels fortunate to have customer support during this pandemic.
Blue Ridge Toys
Sandra Glichowski, owner of Blue Ridge Toys on Main Street in Clayton, said that she chose to open her business because taxpayer money is important in keeping services in the county running.
“Our taxes pay for public services,” Glichowski said.
She also said that she has been able to employ people who otherwise would not have a job during this pandemic.
Carl Butler said that his business, Butler Galleries on Main Street, has been closed since March 9.
“I needed business,” Butler said about why he decided to open his storefront. “We were closed for almost two months.”
Safety of customers and employees
The reopening of the economy comes with rigid cleaning guidelines to which all business owners are required to adhere, such as social distancing and frequently disinfecting.
La Cabana has restaurants in both Clayton and Dillard and is making a point to ensure customers are social distancing.
Juan Quiroz, assistant manager in Clayton, said that they are staggering seating and placing customers at every other table and booth in order to maintain social distancing.
There is also yellow tape marked off at the front entrance indicating where customers need to stand and wait to be seated.
Quiroz said that all employees are required to wear masks and that they continuously clean the restaurant.
A sign is posted outside on the front window asking anyone who has experienced symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home.
We don’t want anyone to get sick, Quiroz explained. He said that they have opened their dining area on a trial basis to see how it goes and that they will close back up if necessary.
Edmonds said that she is requiring her Clayton Café employees to wear masks and gloves at all times.
Hand sanitizing stations have also been set up inside the dining area.
“I’m doing everything I can possibly do,” Edmonds said about keeping the restaurant clean and ensuring the safety of employees and customers.
The Market, a food establishment that neighbors Clayton Café, is taking extra precautions to wash hands and change gloves often.
Teka Earnhardt, manager, said that all employees are required to wear a mask and gloves at all times.
She noted that employees have always worn gloves and changed them after every customer, but that they are being extra cautious when it comes to safety.
“So now we’re just continuing that and we wash our hands even more,” Earnhardt said.
Cooper said that Valley Café was sanitized before reopening the dining area.
A sign is posted on the door outside the front entrance asking customers to go to the bathroom and wash their hands before being seated.
Cooper said that employees wear masks and wash their hands often, and tables and anything customers touch are wiped down repeatedly.
He noted that the tables have been cleared of all items, such as saltshakers, ketchup and mustard bottles and anything else that can’t be disinfected.
“Anything that can’t go through the dishwasher and be sanitized has been removed,” Cooper said.
Only single-use items, he noted.
Cooper said that part of the requirements set by the government is limiting the number of employees in the restaurant at a time.
Valley Café has the capacity to seat 200 people under ordinary circumstances but are currently only allowed to have 50 people in the restaurant at one time.
Butler said that at Butler Galleries, surfaces where customers have card charges, countertops, pens, and other items that are handled are wiped down often.
He noted that he has been leaving the doors open so patrons do not have to touch the door handles.
Glichowski at Blue Ridge Toys said that they are only allowing five customers in the store at one time, and once they leave, the surfaces they came in contact with are disinfected thoroughly.
“We clean constantly on the hour by the hour,” Glichowski said.
Although many people are still hesitant to utilize indoor dining areas, some are eager to get back to their normal routine.
Diners Austin Turner, Tammy Phillips and Chris Phillips said that Valley Café and Catering was the first restaurant they have dined-in at since restaurants have been allowed to open.
“It’s really trying to get back to normal,” Tammy Phillips said about their decision.
Chris Phillips said that he was tired of going through drive-thrus and wanted to sit down in a restaurant and dine.
Whether customers are braving the storm and dining-in or continuing with drive-thru and curbside pickup, business owners expressed appreciation to their employees and loyal customers for continued support.
“I’ve been humbled by the support from customers,” Cooper said. “[I’m] proud to be part of this community.”