MANCHESTER — One of the many things Alex Bellman has missed since Gov. Chris Sununu ordered non-essential businesses to close in late March is the sound of the door buzzer when customers enter his family’s Elm Street jewelry store.
Bellman’s Jewelers is among the retailers preparing to reopen under the revised stay-at-home guidelines that will take effect Monday. Regardless of the restrictions and limits of operating under Sununu’s “Stay at Home 2.0,” shop owners say they are glad to know they will have at least some in-person contact with customers once again.
Bellman, vice president of the company his father founded in 1981, said the business was built on a strong relationship with customers that has been difficult to maintain through curbside service and online video conferences.
“We’re a small business, so we thrive on our customers,” Bellman said Monday. “We’re excited that people are going to have the ability to come in and work with us on whatever they’re doing, whether it’s engagement rings or wedding bands.”
Sununu’s updated guidelines allow retailers, drive-in movie theaters, golf courses, barbers and hair salons to phase in or expand services on a limited basis Monday, provided the businesses adhere to the revised standards.
Bellman’s will be allowing customers inside by appointment only and will have a limit of two parties inside at once. In between appointments, Bellman’s staff will wipe down any merchandise, counters or other items that may have been touched, and employees will wear protective equipment like masks and gloves, Bellman said.
Castro’s Back Room, a cigar shop with locations in Bedford, Concord, Nashua and Manchester, has struggled with curbside-only service, said owner Eric Kilbane.
He plans to reopen the Concord, Nashua and Manchester locations Monday but is unsure about Bedford because of staffing.
“It’s different if you go to the grocery store and you want some milk and eggs, but for cigars you have to be a little more specific. There are different sizes and blends of tobacco,” said Kilbane, who opened his first shop in Nashua in 1996.
The shop will have masks and gloves available for both customers and staff, he said.
”A step forward”
Among the new guidelines, retailers must limit the number of customers inside the store to 50% or less of the allowed occupancy under the fire code. Staff must wear cloth face coverings and continue to practice — and enforce — social distancing whenever possible.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer must be available to both staff and consumers at designated locations, including the entrance and check-out, and employees must receive regular updates and training about COVID-19 mitigation and safeguards based on CDC guidelines.
It’s a long list that is by no means final. Still, it’s a start to resuming the life Granite Staters took for granted before the pandemic took hold.
“I think that for the retail sector it’s a step forward into a new normal that is going to be part of our daily lives for some time,” said Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
“While I’m sure it will not be without its hiccups or challenges, the sooner that businesses can start learning how to adapt to new guidelines and protocols, the better. I think they’re going to be able to learn from that and improve their operations and how they can most successfully operate in this environment.”
Kilbane said a difficult decision was made to permanently close the small chain’s fifth location in Keene.
“We’ve gone down one location, unfortunately,” he said. “It wasn’t our plan, but at this point we had to look at it harshly.”
Monday’s opening will be key to survival, he said.
“Not everybody knows exactly what they want and they like to come in and browse — ‘I’ll take one of those, and one of these,’” Kilbane said.
While Bellman’s has been able to remain open as an essential business under its pawn broker’s license, Bellman said the jewelry store has been limited in what it can do and has seen a dramatic decrease in sales volume.
“We’re just not busy right now,” Bellman said. “People are picking things up or dropping off a few repairs here and there, but it’s very far from what our normal business is.”