SO FAR, SO CAUTIOUS: Businesses, patrons enjoy reopenings, hope future shutdown not needed

Wicked Scissors salon owner Holly Schmidt says clients at the Fortville salon have adjusted well to the restrictions, such as wearing masks, avoiding the waiting area and making appointments for all services. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Most of the tables at Kinsey’s Italian Cafe in McCordsville were filled at lunchtime on Wednesday, June 24. Customers’ conversations overlapped as silverware clinked against plates and staff members in face masks made their way through the dining area.

Commerce across the county has been picking back up as Indiana nears the completion of its reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as infections spike in other states and records are being set for daily case counts, business leaders and customers here welcome the return of activity that had to be curbed during the shutdown. They hope what they’re doing is enough to prevent the process from having to start all over again.

This week, the Daily Reporter visited several establishments to gauge sentiment about the pandemic and its future as the state prepares to lift the final restrictions on movement next week.

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Restaurant rebound

Eateries have been able to open their dining areas at 75% capacity with social distancing parameters since June 12, the start of Stage 4 of the Back on Track Indiana plan.

Randy Kinsey owns Kinsey’s Italian Cafe with his wife, Christi, and their business partner, Joe Leath.

“We’ve been very fortunate here,” Kinsey said, adding business has only been down about 10% overall since the pandemic struck. “…We’ve had a lot of carryout business, a lot of support from the community.”

The restaurant was doing so well with carryout that it kept it up until June 15 and didn’t open its dining area when it was allowed at 50% capacity starting in May.

“We’ve noticed traffic in McCordsville and around the community here has really picked up in the last couple weeks,” Kinsey said. “I think more people are getting out now.”

Lunchtime has been a little slow since reopening because the restaurant’s buffet isn’t open yet, Kinsey said, adding it will return during Stage 5 of the state’s reopening plan, which is currently slated to start July 4.

Kinsey’s had to lose six tables to meet current capacity restrictions. Salt and pepper shakers have been removed from tables. Menus get sanitized after each use. Employees get their temperatures taken with an infrared thermometer at the start of their shifts and wear face coverings while working.

Kinsey said some customers wear masks when they enter, remove them for their stay and then put them back on when they leave.

He hopes COVID-19 cases don’t rise high enough to dictate another shutdown.

”That’s our fear, that we’ll have to go through it again until they find a cure,” Kinsey said. “Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen. There’s some people that won’t make it if they have to shut down again, a second time. We’re very fortunate. We should be able to weather the storm again, but it does put a damper on you. You can’t do much.”

McCordsville resident Abby Kern and her mother, Pam Butts of Kokomo, grabbed lunch at Kinsey’s Italian Cafe Wednesday. Both said they’ve been going out more as restrictions are eased. Kern, who has three small children, said some of her destinations lately include playgrounds, restaurants and church.

“I still don’t like to go in stores that have a lot of people, like the Walmarts and those kinds of places,” Butts said.

Kern said she wears a face covering when grocery shopping and when she knows she’s going to be in close proximity to other people, but if she’s heading somewhere with a lot of space or outdoors, she’ll skip the mask. Butts said she wears a mask when shopping too, and both said they do when they visit beauty salons as well.

“Other than that, as long as I’m either out in the open or with people that I know have been being careful, then I’m comfortable without a mask,” Butts said.

Kern is optimistic about society’s future amid the pandemic.

“I think that there’s just so many unknowns with it that we can’t just sit in our homes for months and months and months,” she said. “I feel like eventually we’re going to have to branch out and just see how this virus adapts and changes.

“I’m glad that things are starting to open back up and there’s a new normal, and I think that’s good,” she continued. “I think people were ready to come out and experience life again. We’re trying to make the best of it.”

Butts is concerned about the virus’s potential continued presence.

“Viruses and flus and those things always ramp up in the winter,” she said. “So is COVID going to be one of the ones that does?

“I just want them to hurry up and find a vaccine so we don’t have to talk about it or think about it anymore,” she continued with a laugh. “But I don’t want them to rush, either. I want to make sure it’s a valid vaccine.”

Tim Plank enjoyed his lunch at a nearby table. It was the first time he had been to Kinsey’s Italian Cafe since it reopened. He used to go at least once a week.

COVID-19 doesn’t trouble him.

“If I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it,” he said. “If I’m not, I’m not. I’m 66. If I do get it and it kills me, I had a good life.”

There is one thing that bothers him about the virus, however.

“I’m done with the Zoom meetings,” said Plank, who serves on the Vernon Township Board, which has been using the online meeting platform since March, including for the three public hearings required for its new fire protection territory.

“Can’t hear people, can’t see their facial expression if you’re going to stir the pot up a little bit,” he added with a chuckle.

Plank said he only wears a mask in public if it’s mandatory. He’s hopeful church services and all of everyday life can return to normal soon.

“But I don’t know if that will ever happen again,” he said.

Returning retail

Retail stores in Indiana have been able to open at full capacity with social distancing guidelines in place for two weeks now. At The Shoe Dept. in Greenfield, a clear plastic barrier on the checkout counter separates customers from employees. Store manager Cindy Walbran and assistant manager Lexie Jones wore masks as they helped customers on Tuesday, June 23.

Walbran said the store closed on March 21 and reopened on May 4, at the start of Stage 2, during which retail stores could open at 50% capacity.

“We were just glad to leave home and come to work,” Walbran added with a laugh.

She suspects customers felt similarly.

“People just miss shopping, I think,” she said.

Jones agreed.

“After being stuck inside for months, I think you’re right,” she said. “They just let loose.”

Both said business started out slow before picking up.

Jones said employees weren’t able to measure customers’ feet at first but have been able to resume that recently, adding the measuring devices are cleaned often, as are the store’s benches and door handles. She also said that the store used to have four benches in each aisle, and now only have one per aisle in order to space out customers more.

Mae Pratt, a Greenfield resident, browsed the store’s shelves of shoes on Tuesday. She’s 62 and has asthma and has a disabled daughter who lives with her, so they were staying home as much as possible throughout the pandemic.

“We’re just now easing into it,” Pratt said of getting back out and about. “Still a little leery… I’m kind of worried about getting out into a lot of different places. Usually when I go places, I see how many people are in the store before I go in.”

Pratt said she always has hand sanitizer with her and when they go out to eat, they try to sit outside. She keeps a close eye on local data on COVID-19 cases too.

Tuesday was one of the first times she hadn’t worn a mask out in public, she said. She added she’s always sure to don one, however, when going to places where there are a lot of people, like Walmart.

A few aisles over shopped Pratt’s daughter, Brittany Keaton, who grew up in Greenfield and was visiting from Charleston, South Carolina. She’s not as concerned about the coronavirus as her mom, and said she doesn’t wear a mask when out in public.

“I think it was kind of overplayed a little bit,” she said of the pandemic, adding she feels shutdowns caused far more harm than good, especially for small businesses.

Next door, at women’s apparel and accessories retailer rue21, a masked Breeann Cooper finished ringing up a customer. A clear barrier and bottle of hand sanitizer rested on the checkout counter. Stickers on the floor reminded customers to keep their distance while waiting in line.

Cooper, the assistant manager, said the store was closed for about two months during the shutdown.

“It’s been really good,” she said of business lately. “At the beginning, obviously we were kind of slow, but once everyone understood and got the word out that we were open, we’ve been really steady. There’s some days where people just aren’t coming out, but we have days where we’re busy constantly.”

Along with the counter barrier and floor stickers, Cooper said the store has implemented other practices to keep customers and employees safe, like cleaning surfaces often and equipping technology that allows patrons to pay with their phones.

While employees are required to wear face coverings, customers are not. Cooper estimated about half of shoppers do.

“We’ve had a lot of people call us and ask if it’s required for them to wear masks,” she said. “…It’s just up to your personal preference. A lot of our older customers and the little customers, they have masks on. But most of it is 50-50.”

She, too, is optimistic while also concerned about a potential second wave of the virus.

“We’re just trying to be as busy as we can and productive as we’re open, because you never know,” Cooper said. “Tomorrow could be worse and we may shut down, we never really know.”

Maintaining the makeover

For personal services in Indiana like hair salons, employees continue to be required to wear face coverings and customers should wear them to the extent possible. Appointments are preferred and work stations should be spaced to meet social distancing guidelines.

Holly Schmidt, owner of Wicked Scissors Hair Salon in Fortville, has been operating under the new rules for about the past two months. The salon is not taking walk-ins and there’s no waiting in the lobby. Instead, clients call or text their stylist upon their arrival and are let in.

“There’s been a lot of little changes like that that just add up,” Schmidt said. “But we’re getting along.”

She admitted she was nervous about what customers’ reactions at first, but added she’s found it to be positive.

“Everything’s been great,” she said. “A lot smoother than I anticipated.”