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Experiences with reopening run gamut of emotions for Lycoming County businesses as region enters yellow phase

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Krystie Britton of Gustonian Gifts, waits on a customer as several downtown businesses are open to business as the area enters into the COVID Yellow phase.

Throughout Lycoming County, shopkeepers and their patrons took a breath of fresh air Friday as the area emerged from the stay-at-home order issued earlier in the year by Gov. Tom Wolf due to COVID-19.

Parking was in short supply but constantly rotating as shoppers dawning masks darted in and out of downtown Williamsport stores to either dodge the patchy rain or each other Friday as Lycoming County moved into the yellow phase.

“It’s a little kooky,” said Alissa DuBois, bookseller at the Otto Bookstore. “It’s not normal. Normal, it’s going to be a long way off. So it’s a new normal we have to adjust to.”

After more than a month since retail stores were forced to close their physical locations to the public, shopkeepers said they were pleasantly surprised at the steady business and many residents were eager to revisit the stores.

Otto Bookstore limited the number of people browsing at any time and had a bookshelf out for pick-up orders.

Owners of the Clothier said they had been busy all day.

“We have been steady,” said Karen Ciccarelli, who runs the Clothier with her husband and son. “I’m surprised that Francis and Matthew both have had customers since we’ve opened.”

“I didn’t know what to expect, but we have been blessed,” she added.

The men’s clothing store started a website during the shutdown and even conducted Facebook Live fashion shows, which gained them business from several distant states.

“We did very well with the live fashion shows, to the point that I think we’re gonna probably continue those and do them monthly,” she said.

Enforcing precautions

Hand sanitizer and signs asking that patrons remember to wear their masks were at every doorway conducting business.

Barb Miele, owner of Gustonian Gifts, agreed that business had been steady.

“It’s just good to be back,” she said. “It’ll be nice when everything’s over with and we’re all back in the green light.”

Customers hadn’t been apprehensive about stopping in and had all been cognizant of the situation, she said.

Jule Hanford, owner of Patinaz, said she was still trying to get the word out that she was open but business had been good regardless.

“It’s okay that not the entire world knows we’re opening, we’re just softly opening,” she said. “We’re trying to work through all the regulations and all the rules and figure out what we need to do for our customers.”

Many people had been in already to pick up gifts for Mother’s Day, Sunday.

“So far, so good,” she said.

Wine and Design, a paint-and-sip business at 357 Market St., will reopen Monday for small, private parties, according to Stefanie Allison, studio owner.

Although she will continue the curbside pick-up for art projects, Allison said she had decided to reopen after speaking with other businesses in the area to see what they were doing to facilitate reopening under the governor’s protocol.

“I had a few feelers out and a couple of questions out to a couple of different businesses to see pretty much what everyone else is requiring,” Allison said. “I just think that, citywide, we should all have the same standards and requests so there’s not a question when you go from one business to another.”

“I think a lot of the other businesses are doing comparable things,” she added.

She noted that, at Wine and Design, social distancing will be observed as well as requiring masks be worn by those attending the private parties. Areas have been taped off to designate the 6-foot social distance, she added.

Childcare back in business

River Valley Regional YMCA plans to reopen daycares Monday at a number of its facilities, according to Chad Eberhart, CEO of the organization.

The daycares at Williamsport and Lock Haven had opened at the beginning of this week for children of essential workers in order for staff to test the procedures put in place to follow the protocol set by the governor and the CDC.

Daycares at both Lock Haven sites, Williamsport, the Loyalsock Childcare Center, and the Eastern Lycoming YMCA are set to open Monday for all children, ages infant through preschool, for the preschool age programs, and also for programs for school-aged children.

“We have been researching how we will do it, what regulations we will implement. Everything is under the CDC guidelines that have been put out relating to opening childcare centers. All of those guidelines are what we are following,” Eberhart said.

“It took us a few weeks to make sure that we could implement all those things. To make sure we had the proper cleaning supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) needed to do it and then opening this week with very small numbers to kind of model and test out those procedures. It’s gone really well,” he added.

Beyond downtown

On Lycoming Creek Road, the mood among business personnel was upbeat.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Scott Niklaus, manager of Harder Sporting Goods, said Friday, referring to the time that has elapsed since the business was forced to close its doors on March 20.

“It feels good to be open,” he said, adding that he and others sincerely hope that the worst about COVID-19 is over for the region.

“I expect that we will be busy as soon as people realize that we’re once again open for business. Hopefully things will just get better from here on out,” he said.

At Winner Carpet One Floor and Home, manager Bill Robbins said, “I’m happy that we’re now open fully six days-a-week.”

Both businesses are practicing safe distances and masks must be worn inside the stores.

Robbins noted that Carpet One “is still meeting with customers by appointment for those who feel more comfortable doing that.”

Jersey Shore small businesses are finally open after months of silence on the streets of the small town. Places like Deja Vu, the American Rescue Workers Thrift Store and the Country Beary Shack are opening for the first time and the stores have been overflowing with excited community members out and about and shopping for the first time in a long time.

Deja Vu, located on Allegheny Street, started its day at 9:30 a.m. Friday and remained steady, according to Tina Thomas, owner.

“It’s wonderful to see people supporting the small businesses,” she said.

The closure has not only been stressful for her, but for her vendors, she said.

The Country Beary Shack, owned and operated by Carole Lasson, has offered curbside pick up during the closure but opened its doors on Friday making sure that shoppers are wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart as business has been “extremely busy.”

“Everyone is so excited to get out of their homes,” Lasson said. “The customers have been out and about helping out the small businesses downtown.”

Hopefully, the business will be able to celebrate its 24-year anniversary on July 1.

“Things could possibly go back to red,” she added. “It is a little scary.”

Other businesses in the borough were able to stay open during the pandemic but are hopeful for a successful return and uprising in business like Ye Olde Print Shoppe.

Bryan Edwards, owner, said he saw a large decrease in jobs, as he has gotten only 10 jobs during the closure.

“I normally get five to seven jobs a day,” he said. “I hope to see it increase over time.”

Scott Mumma, owner of Scherer Appliances on Allegheny Street, was only open for service during the pandemic shut down but was able to open the store on Friday for sales.

“We were able to do service only. We kept pretty busy,” he said. “Sales of course slowed down, but we have fortunately have had people willing to wait.”

He also added that, since opening, the store has been really busy.

Not all sunshine

Save for a woman talking on her phone and two children close by on roller skates, Montgomery’s small downtown was all but deserted as a light drizzle fell late in the morning.

Shawn Coles said everything seemed pretty much the same in the borough.

In December, she opened Coles Coffee at 10 S. Main St., and now, like many entrepreneurs, faces the prospect of keeping her business going during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It definitely put a hurt on us,” she said.

Despite the transition for Lycoming County into the yellow phase, Coles said she’ll keep her business open strictly for take-outs.

“I would just prefer to wait until we go into green,” she said. “It would make me feel better.”

Some of the few other businesses in the downtown were closed.

An exception was the Uni-Mart at the corner of Main and Montgomery streets, where customers could be seen trickling in and out of the store.

Looking to the future

Jade Shiley, an employee at Texas Vape & CBD LLC along Main Street in Muncy, said she was “very excited to be open, and looking forward for everything to be coming back to normal.”

The store just opened in mid-February and had to close in March because of the governor’s order.

“It was definitely a shock to have just opened and then have to close,” she said. “Nobody was expecting that. We stayed open as long as we could.”

The vape and CBD store was able to communicate orders through Facebook and other deliveries to their customers during the closure.

Mark Armstrong, owner of Mark’s Outfitters since 1978 in Hughesville on Main Street, said he was busy.

The store, which employs five people, applied for a waiver from the state and was denied, but was “absolutely excited” to be back in business Friday.

They sell work-related footwear and clothing, and were very busy with people trying on shoes and placing orders, Armstrong said.

Nicole Wettlaufer, president of KVS Computers, a computer repair and refurbished sales company, said she was excited to be back open.

“We were considered essential before, so we were open but by appointment only,” she said. “We were only doing repairs for emergencies, people working from home and kids that were schooling from home.”

Before Friday, Wettlaufer said she had to turn away non-emergency repairs and limit the number of people in the store to follow state guidelines.

KVS also accepts electronic recycling drop-offs, which is now able to accept again. However, the store is unable to do electronic pickups for businesses until the county turns green.

“Our open sign is back on and blinking and we are happy about that,” she said.

(Contributing to this report were Sun-Gazette reporters Derek Danneker, Karen Vibert-Kennedy, Pat Crossley, Mark Nance, Mallorie McIlwain and Philip A. Holmes.)

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