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G. Willikers! curbside

Jody Breneman, co-owner of G. Willikers! Books & Toys in Portsmouth, brings an order outside for curbside pickup. The store has decided to continue with curbside service for now.

Like other New Hampshire retailers, The Chocolatier had the green light to reopen its shop to customers last week with some restrictions, but the owners are holding off.

The popular handmade candy store in downtown Exeter has decided it will continue to rely on curbside pickup and online orders, which have kept the family business afloat since the temporary closure that followed the state’s stay-at-home order issued in March.

“The shop is very small inside. I think we’re just not really comfortable doing it yet. I’m just going to kind of wait and see what happens over the next two to three weeks,” co-owner Edna Howard said last Wednesday.

The Chocolatier is among the businesses that have not jumped at the chance to bring customers back inside during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some business owners say they worry that it may be too soon to reopen.

Others have adjusted to their new way of doing business with curbside and delivery service and feel they can keep it going — at least for a while longer.

In addition to retailers, hair salons and barbershops were also allowed to reopen last Monday, and while many did, some remain closed.

Bombshell’s Salon and Spa in Epping will reopen June 1.

Despite the hardships of the closures, owner Michelle Negri said she was shocked that salons were included in the first phase of reopening. She said she feels the governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force “failed us as an industry” and ignored recommendations of their own state board.

“They laughed at our concerns, our pleas to be heard. We cannot social distance. We cannot ensure to anyone that our establishments will not have a silent carrier walk through our doors. When every hairstylist in the industry is in school, before they even touch a person’s hair we are trained and taught about infectious and contagious disease. It is against our code of ethics, our licensing, to put the health of ourselves and the public at risk,” she said.

The restrictions that limit some salon services also pose an even larger financial threat upon reopening, Negri said.

Every business has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities as they consider the guidelines for reopening to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers, says Jennifer Wheeler, president of the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce.

“After assessing what was needed to reopen while remaining profitable — access to (personal protective equipment), staffing, and reductions in capacity — some decided to do so and others decided to wait,” she said.

G. Willikers! Books & Toys in Portsmouth has also decided to keep customers out of the store but will continue with curbside pickup and shipping its orders anywhere in the U.S. The store began offering curbside service on March 17.

Jody Breneman, the store’s co-owner, said she feels it’s the best way to continue for the health and safety of employees, customers, and the community. She described the 42-year-old business as an “experiential store.”

“The high-touch environment is not conducive to the kind of safety precautions we would need to take. We felt that if we were to open we just couldn’t fathom how we could make our store 100% safe, and we didn’t want any measure of risk when we don’t have to do that,” Breneman said.

She also expressed concern about reopening while the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

“We’re not seeing evidence that the virus is under control and we would rather watch and see how things go as things are slowly reopening. We don’t want to be part of something that’s starting too soon,” she said.

Online sales haven’t been a part of the business model at G. Willikers! in the past, but during the pandemic the store has been posting hundreds of pictures on its Facebook page showing items for sale inside the store. Customers have been able to send messages or call to make purchases for pick up or delivery.

The store has even used the FaceTime feature on staff cellphones to give virtual tours for children to see what’s inside.

Breneman said the store plans to include online shopping once the doors reopen.

Water Street Bookstore in Exeter will continue to take orders over the phone and online with curbside service and home delivery in Exeter and surrounding communities.

Surprisingly, owner Dan Chartrand said sales are only down about 25% compared to this time last year.

“Our community has rallied to our side and our booksellers have hustled their (butts) off,” he said. “I never could have dreamed that we could do this well.”

Chartrand and his staff fear they will lose some of the non-public facing business if the store opens its doors now.

“There will be public facing hours at some point, but it will be done with great deliberation and consultation between the owner and the booksellers and the patrons,” he said.

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