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Norman amid coronavirus: Small business owners try to stay afloat, talk reopening concerns

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Sooner Theatre

The sign in front of Sooner Theatre reads "This is just intermission we will see you soon" on April 15.

Business owners across Norman are struggling to find ways to get by and reopen safely after being closed for at least five weeks due to coronavirus-related regulations.

Despite Gov. Kevin Stitt’s intention for Oklahoma to begin reopening in a three-phase plan starting May 1, some Norman businesses will remain closed until they feel it is safe to reopen. 

Jacob Peregrin, co-owner of Main Street retail store Human Interaction, said his family and customers' safety is a priority and he will not rush into reopening.

Norman Mayor Breea Clark announced her plan to reopen Norman beginning May 1, with retail stores limited to 35 percent capacity.

Peregrine said he will likely increase hours for in-store or curbside pickup while observing the outcome of businesses like movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and more when they reopen.

“We would probably wait to see what the numbers do,” Peregrine said. “Two weeks after this has been going on, have numbers quadrupled and is everyone going to have to shut back down again? … We'd rather play it a little safe and keep trying to focus on our online sales and customer service, and just trying to be like a little light of positivity for people.”

Lori Wright, owner of The Flower Shop on Porter Avenue, said her business also plans on keeping its doors closed to customers until at least after Mother’s Day. She said Mother’s Day is one of the floral shop's busiest times and she would feel uncomfortable allowing so many customers in.

Businesses like Human Interaction, The Flower Shop and Clementine Hair Lounge are experiencing a loss of sales and profit due to their closures, like most small businesses across the country.

Personal care providers like Clementine are prohibited from opening until at least May 15, according to Clark’s plan to reopen Norman. Clementine Co-owner Melanie Luster said though the salon’s employees have been able to collect unemployment, she is worried about how the business will be affected the longer they must remain closed.

“Hopefully we would be able to reopen when it's time, but the longer we're closed, certainly the more difficult things become,” Luster said. “But I also don't know what it's going to  look like when we reopen. I don't think that we're just going to jump in where we left off.”

While Peregrin said Human Interaction would be able to make it several more months closed, he said he also worries about how long it will take for sales to go back to pre-pandemic levels.

“How many people are going to want to get out … (or) have any kind of disposable income to spend at a non-essential business at that point?” Peregrin said. “What happens if there's this second round that they're talking about that hits this fall, and we do reopen, and then we have to shut down again? Those are bigger fears than the current situation.”

And while the Small Business Administration has loans available for small businesses, many have yet to actually receive the loan even weeks after applying, including Peregrin.

“I know that's happened to a lot of different people,” Peregrin said. “Especially with all of the multi-million and billion-dollar businesses that are finding loopholes to get that money.”

Clementine Hair Lounge, as a business that largely cannot serve customers while being closed, has been doing online orders of salon products as well as hats designed by the salon with the quote “Quarantine Hair Don’t Care.” However, Luster said these sales don’t do much for profits.

“It's a drop in the bucket,” Luster said. “It's something that helps a little bit, and it keeps us out there in front of everybody. Mainly what we've been focusing on is trying to keep our social media going so that when we do open back (up), people don't forget that we exist.”

For Wright, who has been solely taking and creating floral orders herself, there have actually been slightly more orders per day than before the coronavirus. These have been more small orders so, while their sales have not exceeded normal amounts, Wright said she is thankful they are able to do more than break even.

As for why so many people are ordering flowers right now, Wright said people are using floral arrangements to enrich loved ones’ days during quarantine as well as sending them to those who are sick.

“We have felt really loved and supported by the community,” Wright said. “But we also have felt like we've been able to brighten people's day. We’ve had quarantine birthdays, … (people who) have parents in assisted living … we've had people that have had deaths, and we've been able to offer condolences with flowers.”

Both Wright and Peregrin have each been working on creating and launching websites for their respective businesses, using the extra time on their hands to do so.

“It’ll help us some, but it’s not going to solve any problems,” Peregrin said.

Whether someone is a business owner, student, employee or something else, many are struggling with mental health concerns and simply trying to continue day-to-day tasks.

Carrying out typical springtime activities like gardening, staying active and getting sunshine has been Luster’s form of getting through this time, counting herself fortunate to live on 15 acres with her family as her neighbors.

Many, including Wright, are turning to their faith to get through this unprecedented time.

“I have a really good support group through my church,” Wright said. “So for me personally, there hasn't been a fear or worry or concerns. I just know that the Lord's got a plan and we don't always see what the plan is going to be. … (And) I have my children here, I have my grandchildren here, I have a lot to be thankful for.”

For others, like Peregrin and his wife, Amy, it’s all about keeping up a routine and trying new things.

One example Peregrin gave was his wife giving him a “mean fade haircut” recently, when she’d never used a pair of hair razors before.

“We're just trying not to lose ourselves in this,” Peregrin said. “Probably not any different than most people, just trying not to let it totally just take over our thoughts.”

Jana Allen is a journalism junior and the Daily's enterprise reporter. She was formerly a news reporter, and held several editor positions on the news desk before transitioning to enterprise.

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