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To reopen or not amid coronavirus? Business owners, customers weigh pros and cons

To reopen or not amid coronavirus? Business owners, customers weigh pros and cons


WATERLOO — As Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the green light to restaurants, barber shops and other businesses to reopen across the state, business owners around Black Hawk County were letting their long-suffering customers know if, indeed, they would reopen this weekend.

Newton’s Paradise Cafe in downtown Waterloo announced on its Facebook page Thursday it was “excited” to be reopening it’s dining room and planned regular hours Saturday.

“Things are going to look a little different for a while,” owners noted, adding that customers were asked to call the restaurant from their vehicles to await a table as restaurants are only allowed to operate at 50% capacity. “We know that this will be different, but we look forward to seeing our dining room with customers again!”

But just a few steps down Sycamore Street, Rodney’s Kitchen restaurant will continue to offer takeout only, owner Rodney Lewis announced in a Facebook post.

“Black Hawk County a week ago had one of the highest counts of (coronavirus), and I know it didn’t take a week to disappear,” Lewis wrote.

Lewis said he felt it was “the right thing to do for the community,” as well as his and his employees’ health, disagreeing with the governor’s contention reopening right now is a good idea.

“Don’t let greed affect your health,” he wrote.

The differing philosophies between the restaurant neighbors illustrates the opposing sides of the reopening argument: Businesses, closed for nearly a month in counties hard-hit by coronavirus, like Black Hawk County, have lost untold amounts of money, laid off staff and some could potentially be forced out of business if closed much longer.

Already, Galleria de Paco in downtown Waterloo and Spicoli’s Grill on University Avenue closed their restaurants, with Spicoli’s announcing the news just as businesses reopened Friday.

“We are effectively out of business as a bar and restaurant,” Spicoli’s owners said Friday, noting they would be giving away tables and stools from the establishment in the coming days for “donations to our museum fund.”

Yet bringing customers back into dining rooms, salons, gyms, and tattoo and massage parlors too early risks a second wave of infections just as the county — at more than 1,800 cases and 31 deaths — had begun to see its number of cases slow.

“Everybody is gonna make their own decisions. Everybody has to feel comfortable in how they move forward with this,” Reynolds said Thursday. “Some are ready to open up and move forward. Others are continuing to take a little bit more time. And then Iowans are going to take the responsibility to decide to participate.”

Cedar Valley residents themselves areconflicted. As of Friday, 65% of The Courier’s Facebook users responding said they will not yet patronize reopened businesses in person, while 35% said they would.

“Absolutely (I) will be out and about,” said Ken Boesenberg of Manchester on the post. “Time to get back to living!”

“It’s way too soon,” argued Shane Fowler of Waterloo. “Governor Reynolds cares more about money than lives.”

“I prefer to see what happens when the herd runs free,” said Gloria Bloomfield of Waterloo.

Brothaz Barbershop in Waterloo reopened Friday, said owner Dale Jones. He said business was steady, particularly since he could only allow half his usual clientele in at a time.

“Everybody has been sheltered for so long, they’re just ready to get out of the house,” Jones said.

That didn’t mean he isn’t still worried about coronavirus.

“It’s invisible. You’ve got to worry about it,” Jones said. “But everybody needs to get back to work now.”

Trio Salonspa in Waterloo was also reopening, emailing its customers the news Friday.

“Over the next few days, we will be contacting those of you on our LONG list to get you rescheduled,” the owners wrote.

Salon Iris in Cedar Falls noted it will not reopen until June 1.

“We cannot wait to see you SOON!” owners posted to Facebook Wednesday.

Red Owl Tattoo in Cedar Falls said it is “extremely excited” to to open up, noting new guidelines will result in changes for customers.

“Thank you so much for your patience as well as all of the support you’ve shown throughout all of this,” owners posted on Facebook Wednesday. “We really appreciate all of you!”

Frequency Massage in Waterloo is among those businesses staying shuttered for now.

“I will be waiting to reopen when it can be done safely,” the owner said on Facebook on Wednesday.

Ninja U owner Scott Behrends announced he’d open his Cedar Falls gym Monday, but “by appointment only,” and listed all of the guidelines he needed customers to undertake before coming in.

“And get excited, because we did a major overhaul to the obstacles,” Behrends wrote in a Facebook post to Ninja U’s page Thursday. “It looks amazing and we can’t wait for you to try them all out!”

The Finishing Touch Tattoo and Barbershop in Cedar Falls also said it will be “starting fresh on Monday” after spending the weekend cleaning per the state’s guidelines.

But Milkbox Bakery in Cedar Falls will stay closed on the advice of “epidemiologists, scientists and trusted officials.”

“Simply put, I do not believe it is yet safe to do so,” the owner of the College Hill eatery said Thursday. “This decision is made with the welfare of my staff, family, devoted customers, and the public-at-large at the forefront of my mind.”

The governor noted Friday the “cost” of keeping the state’s economy restricted during the pandemic meant more Iowans unemployed for longer, more mental health problems, more domestic and child abuse and more food insecurity. But she said she is also confidently reopening businesses due to “robust” testing of Iowans.

“We’re gonna continue to monitor this very carefully,” Reynolds said. “I have confidence in Iowans and our businesses.”

That optimism was cautiously echoed by Black Hawk County’s mayors on Thursday, as some announced they would also slowly begin reopening city buildings.

“Our goal in this initial recovery phase is for a closely-monitored return to in-person services,” said Cedar Falls Mayor Rob Green. “We’ll make adjustments as needed, based on what the experience is in the weeks to come.”

Officials urged businesses to follow the state’s guidelines for reopening, including keeping people six feet away from one another, frequent cleaning, allowing employees to stay home if they had coronavirus symptoms and considering the use of masks or other face coverings.

Those who didn’t — and there would be spot checks, said Sheriff Tony Thompson — risked arrest or the forfeiture of their licenses.

“Businesses, please take your time to reopen safely,” said Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, county health director, noting anyone with questions was welcome to contact her department. “I know this is a scary time for both businesses and customers, but I trust that we can work together to ensure the safety of the employees and the customers.”

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