NASHVILLE – Nashville’s reopening got off to a slow start Monday, with a trickle of customers returning to most restaurants and retail establishments as they opened their doors to the public for the first time in about seven weeks.
Athens Family Restaurant, a Greek diner on 8th Avenue South in the Melrose neighborhood, got its first breakfast customer 90 minutes after opening at 7 a.m.
Athens regular Chuck Carter, 83, walked into the restaurant that made several moves to prepare for a safe reopening.
Chairs were removed from every other table. Menus were placed under glass table tops so customers can’t touch them. Spray bottles of hand sanitizer were on each table. Individually-wrapped pens were given for free to customers to sign credit card receipts.
Mohammed Rasras, the restaurant’s owner for 15 years, said, “We want to minimize being a place that spreads COVID-19, and we’re really excited about the opportunity to get back into this thing.”
Rasras said he expected a really slow day Monday: “People are still reluctant to get out.”
But he’s hoping they’ll come back soon. Despite not getting federal assistance yet, Rasras said he has been able to keep 70% or so of his 20-person staff working, though at reduced hours with take-out service.
Phase one in reopening plan
Many stores and restaurants turned to e-commerce, takeout and curbside service when Nashville’s vibrant restaurant and retail scene ground to a halt in March amid government efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it appears that model may be here to stay.
Allowing retail and restaurant businesses to open at 50% capacity is part of phase one of Nashville’s reopening plan, but many businesses continue to offer a hybrid of limited in-person service and contactless options.
Some restaurants, including Martin’s Bar-B-Que, Otaku Ramen and Slim & Husky’s, decided not to reopen Monday, citing concerns about safety and profitability.
Businesses that do reopen must meet specific requirements, including screening employees daily, ensuring that employees wear masks when serving customers and working near other employees, sanitizing baskets and carts after each use and complying with social distancing for both employees and customers. Stores and restaurants cannot give away free samples of food and other products, and any items that are “shared” between customers (think condiments or makeup testers) must be removed.
The city’s order now states customers should wear a face covering or mask while shopping, except when hazardous to the health of the wearer.
On Monday, Mayor John Cooper warned that any restaurants or stores that repeatedly failed to comply with these rules would be shut down by the health department, if necessary. He previously said that customers should note how stores are responding and patronize those that uphold health and safety regulations.
“People have a right to be safe and not just safe at home,” Cooper said. “People have worked very, very, very hard in this town to limit the spread of the virus, and we have to honor that work.”
Some businesses see more traffic
Some restaurants and shops saw slightly higher traffic.
McKay Used Books opened with 86 customers in a socially-distanced line outside the grocery-store sized building, manager Andrea Jacobson said. The number of customers ebbed and flowed throughout the day, with the most activity in the late afternoon. At its busiest, the business still had well under 200 people, which is one quarter of the building’s capacity.
Jacobson said she thinks the store drew people’s interest because they are looking for something to do. The store is usually busiest in summer months when children are out of school, so the interest makes sense, she said. People have also brought used books to donate and trade, perhaps after having time to do some spring cleaning.
The customer reaction was similar to that of the business’s other branches in Knoxville and Chattanooga, which are already open, according to Jacobson.
Peg Leg Porker opened its doors Monday to a small crowd that filled about a quarter of the restaurant around noon. Union Teller served a handful of people breakfast and lunch.
“While we had hoped to have seen more people, the ones we did see were very appreciative to have a place to sit down and dine,” said Michael Miller, the food and beverage director for the Fairlane Hotel, home to the Union Teller Delicatessen, via email.
Eight customers were waiting to shop when United Apparel Liquidators on West End opened its doors at 10 a.m. Store Manager Abby Staley said the store hit its maximum capacity of 10 customers four times by 3:30 p.m.
“We have so many regulars that we have a relationship with that we see on a day-to-day basis sometimes. … It’s just nice to see all of them and know that they’re all doing OK and show them all the beautiful things in our store,” Staley said.
Tracy Combs and her daughter shopped at Molly Green, a Nashville-based clothing store, for the first time Monday. The shopping trip was a Mother’s Day gift and celebration of spring and some regulations lifting, she said.
“We want to support local, support them staying open and go to smaller stores,” Combs explained.
The pair were the stores’ second and third customers of the day, Manager Lizzy Greer said.
“I think people want to come out and do things that they love and miss,” Greer said, but many are still cautious and unsure.
Customer waiting at the door
Serving customers without samples and physical contact is a challenge for The Cosmetic Market, a small Nashville-based makeup chain, but it’s one they’re willing to face. The store’s two Davidson County locations opened Monday at 9:30 a.m., with one customer already waiting at the door at their Hill Center shop. Three customers came in within 30 minutes of opening.
Every item in the store from lipstick tubes to shampoo bottles has been sanitized, said Linda Roberts, who has owned the Nashville store for 40 years. Masked employees must change their gloves after each customer they serve. Customers must wear a mask (which the store can provide) and only four clients are allowed in the store at once.
Roberts said she knows ramping back up will be a “slow haul,” but she has faith in loyal customers. Vice President of Sales Mary Kathryn Yeiser Hudson said the chain’s other stores around the state were already open and performed well last weekend.
But the Hill Center, usually a bustling shopping location, had a relatively quiet morning – nearly half of the stores remain closed or offer curbside service only, and others offer shopping by appointment only. A handful of people, some wearing face masks, walked along the center’s sidewalks with their dogs, observing which stores were open but refraining from walking inside.
“This is my fourth recession, it’s not my first rodeo,” Roberts said. “I have never once worried about whether or not we would make it through a time that’s never, ever happened before, and that is so much being in Nashville and having that support.”
Follow Cassandra Stephenson on Twitter at @CStephenson731.
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