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Norman enters Phase 2 of reopening, local business owners discuss operational changes between phases

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O'Connell's Irish Pub and Grille

O'Connell's Irish Pub and Grille on Campus Corner Oct. 18, 2019.

The city of Norman entered Phase 2 of its Healthier at Home plan today, expanding ways in which businesses and public facilities can operate.

Community pools are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity. While some gyms already opened May 1, those previously closed due to their inability to meet social distancing guidelines are also able to reopen today, according to a Thursday press release.

Summer camps may be held following sanitation rules, and previously closed bars may also open if standing-room-only areas are kept at 50 percent capacity and employees wear masks. Additionally, retail stores may increase to 75 percent of their maximum capacity, according to the release.

Norman residents are encouraged to continue wearing masks and keep social group sizes to 25 people or fewer. Those over 65 or at high risk for COVID-19 complications are still encouraged to stay at home. 

Even with the advancement of the plan, some local business owners say their operations remain relatively unchanged. Several venues in the community met guidelines for opening May 1 and were mostly unaffected by the start of Phase 2.

Downtown Fitness on Lindsey street reopened May 4 after meeting the initial guidelines for the reopening of gyms. General Manager Ben Hutchens says the gym is “chugging along.”

“We’ve got a bunch of signs up requiring people to keep their social distancing, requiring that people wipe their equipment, and crowds have been light,” Hutchens said. “Everybody’s been very considerate of each other.”

Meanwhile, bars like O’Connell’s Irish Pub and Grille, which reopened May 5, continue to work to ensure safety. General Manager Jeff Stewart says while standing-room-only areas may be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, his restaurant will still be limited to 50 percent capacity overall, while observing six-foot distancing between groups.

“We do have standing at the bar primarily. … We’re (using) more seating than anything else,” Stewart said. “Even if you get a group around the bar, you can only still have 10 in the group, and then we have six-foot spacing after that from that distance.” 

While local businesses will be allowed to open at fuller customer capacity with the implementation of Phase 3, scheduled for June 12, how those businesses will ultimately fare will be determined in the weeks ahead.

Balfour of Norman owner Jerry Hatter, whose Sooner fan apparel store resides on Campus Corner, said while Phase 2’s increase of retail capacity to 75 percent is nice, it’s a change that doesn’t affect him much this time of year. Only the return of football could bring that amount of customers back into his store.

“Seventy-five percent capacity at just about any store — unless it’s Christmas time or football season — you don’t ever have that most of the time,” Hatter said. “I don’t know if you’d even have that at Walmart.”

While it’s still uncertain if by June 12 it will be safe to fully reopen the city, and financial prospects are murkier than ever before, Norman businesses still hope to cater to the community in any way that they can.

“I think it’s incredibly important for some people to just have some sense of normalcy,” Hutchens said. “But the fact that we can offer a service where people are getting their health back on track and being active … I would definitely consider that an asset to the community.”

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