Various business owners from around Catoosa County discussed the challenges of reopening in the wake of COVID-19 during a Facebook Live session Tuesday morning, April 28.

Jack Goodlet from Park Place said his Fort Oglethorpe restaurant has always prided itself on cleanliness, but that they have taken additional steps in order to open back up for indoor dining, all while complying with the rules and regulations set forth by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

He explained that everything people would touch is being constantly wiped down, including entry doors. Six-foot intervals are being marked at the front door, hand sanitizer is available for customers and all employees are wearing masks.

Other protocols have also been put in place for menus, condiments, the serving of food and the payment of checks. He added that seating in the restaurant has been changed to comply with social distancing, but that they can make arrangements for larger groups to be served within the safety guidelines. The restaurant’s salad bar remains closed for now.

“We’re doing everything that was in the guidelines (and more) to keep people safe and encourage people to get out and start trying to get back to some form of normalcy again,” Goodlet said, noting that curbside pick-up is available for those who want to use it. “We’re just excited to be open, our employees are excited to be open and we hope you all will get out and come see us.”

Kami Higdon with Majestic Spa and Salon in Ringgold said her shop is also excited to get back to work and that they can take steps to assure a safe environment for those who need it.

“If we have clients or people out there that are (medically) at extremely high-risk and don’t want to take the chance of being around other people,” she began. “If they will give us a call, we’ll set up a special time where they can just be one-on-one in the shop.”

She went on to say that Majestic is only taking appointments at this time, but that they are currently accepting new clients and hopes people will help in getting the local economy moving forward again.

“We will make sure that the social distancing and the cleaning is going on,” she added “This is a new norm for us, but we hope people that will come out and join us.”

Higdon also said she believes some of the new safety precautions and protocols that have been put into place in the last five or six weeks should remain in place going forward, even after the current situation has passed.

“If we can create these habits that we’ve had to create for COVID-19 and continue on with these habits, we can help with the flu season and things like that not be as drastic as it is,” she added.

Catoosa County Board of Commissioners Chairman Steven Henry, who moderated the session, agreed.

“I think there will be some good that comes out of all of this,” he said, offering wait times at doctor’s offices as an example. “I was talking to some health care professionals the other day and one of the things they said there was no reason that you (should be) sitting in a doctor’s office for three hours waiting on an appointment. Now that COVID-19 is here, they see how important it is to not have that full waiting room.”

With 20 years in his current business, Chuck Harris of AMS Medical Supplies in Ringgold said his company deals with some people who are the most medically at-risk. He said that nothing has really changed for the company, as far as procedures go, because like doctors’ offices and hospitals, his business is accredited and undergoes thorough regular inspection by accreditation companies for cleanliness and patient record compliance.

However, he added that his stores have put extra cleaning protocols in place since the outbreak began, from the showroom floor to the front door handles to touchless payment options, and that they have even started providing alcohol-based hand wipes for customers when they leave.

Harris said face masks, gloves and touchless thermometers have been three of their most popular items lately and that they are also offering curbside pick-up, even going so far as to quick-ship products with a pair of fun socks instead of Styrofoam packing peanuts to help try and bring a smile to people’s faces during a difficult time.

“People don’t have to buy from us,” he added. “We understand that, but when they do we appreciate it and we appreciate it more now. ... Not to say we’ve never appreciated people, but we appreciate people so much more now because they put their trust in us and that’s why we go above and beyond and we’ve always done it since we’ve been in business.”

Zack and Courtney Cross of Southern Charm Clothing in Ringgold also spoke on the challenges they have faced in trying to operate a small business during a time in which potential customers were being asked to stay at home.

They explained that while their Dalton and Chattanooga locations were closed, they chose to keep the Ringgold location open and changed some of their store hours to focus on online sales and curbside pickup.

“We have 14-plus employees and trying to make sure they still had money coming in and we had very limited hours,” Courtney said, adding that they have done their best to adapt in the face of lost revenue in both tuxedo rentals for postponed proms and Easter clothing. “It was hard. Sales have been down drastically, but they are coming back.”

Zack credited curbside pick-up for helping them stay afloat, calling it “a huge hit” among customers.

“To anybody that purchased from us and allowed us to do the curbside service, thank you so much,” he added. “It really carried us for the last couple of months and we really appreciate that.”

The Crosses said they use Facebook and a website for online sales and to grow their businesses and Zack said the last five weeks have served as a way reevaluate the business model and see how to be more efficient, while providing even better personal service to customers.

“It was an eye-opening experience for us. ... It helped us dive down into a deeper part of our business, so I think we’ll be better off,” he said, adding that curbside service and some other changes that have been implemented will stay in place once the current situation ends. “Everybody will be better off, after this is over with.

“When you kind of don’t look at the mass market and you narrow it down and worry about one customer at a time, you can give a better service to them. To see people wanting to support us and the local businesses downtown that are doing curbside service, that’s a true testament to the people of Catoosa County.”

They also added that extra cleaning and safety precautions are in place now that their store doors have opened back up to the public.

“We’re excited to get back going and excited to see what Catoosa County is going to do in the next six months,” Zack added.

Catoosa County Economic Development Director Keith Barclift and Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce President Amy Jackson also spoke, reminding viewers that the website Catoosa.info is available for everything from information about small business loans to local grocery store hours to which restaurants in the county deliver.

“We’ve just been working hard to keep it updated,” Jackson said. “Keith and I have been spending a lot of time on Zoom calls ... at the state level and actually at the federal level as well. We’re just trying to get the information out and disseminated as quickly and easily as possible.”

Barclift said he is available for anyone who has questions or needs information about small business programs and other assistance programs, while Jackson said her staff has been working tirelessly to help out, doing everything from updating the Chamber’s website and Facebook pages to working with volunteers to help produce 500 free homemade cloth face masks for anyone that needs them.

“The Chamber wants to support our local businesses and community in any way we can,” she continued. “Our lives have changed too. We’re a small business like everybody else and our members are so important.

“I just want to say how proud I am of the Chamber staff. They’ve really stepped up and just done anything that’s been best for the community. I’m so glad of the partnership with Keith and the Economic Development Authority. We are a great team and we’re proud to be a part of Catoosa County and supporting Catoosa County businesses.”

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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