More than 300 people tuned in April 27 for the state's first virtual town hall for small businesses, with many asking when shuttered businesses can reopen and what guidelines they will have to follow before customers return.
Hosted by the Delaware Division of Small Business and Delaware Prosperity Partnership, organizers said the goal is to continue to fight the spread of COVID-19 while allowing businesses to return to as close to business as usual as possible.
“Today is a great opportunity to start looking forward to how we can begin to get our economy restarted,” said Damian DeStefano, director of the Division of Small Business, during the first of seven Small Business Recovery Town Halls planned for businesses across the state.
“The questions we're going to ask you really help us make sure we're not missing things that need to be in the plans or need to be considered so we can step forward as strong as possible in Delaware,” said Kurt Foreman, president & CEO of Delaware Prosperity Partnership.
Area businessmen and -women were not shy about sharing their experiences during the shutdown and ways to operate moving forward.
Kathy Sperl-Bell, associate broker and realtor of Active Adults Realty, said with no new contracts, the impact of the shutdown will be felt later this year during the third and fourth quarters.
“We're not getting new contracts, and this is typically the busiest time of the year,” she said.
Jeffrey Gosnear, vice president of Grottos Pizza Inc., said the sooner businesses can receive state guidelines to reopen, the better.
“Are dining rooms going to be at 50 percent occupancy, or are we going to have any way of doing any type of bar business?” he asked. “Are we going to have to put dividers between all of our tables or booths, because right now we have a lot of people we could be using to prepare for this.”
Gosnear said if they know what changes must be made in order for a restaurant to reopen, they have the manpower to keep people employed. “We could be preparing those things now, and that's what we're hoping to be able to do,” he said.
Foreman said it’s part of the plan to give businesses time to prepare for reopening.
“We know you need some time to deal with whatever the new dance is, and it's not like you do it tomorrow,” Foreman said.
Thierry Langer, co-owner of Kaisey's Delights, with stores in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, suggested a reopening that follows what the French Riviera has done, which includes expanded outdoor restaurant seating. With limited space in some areas, he said, turning some streets into pedestrian-only could accommodate additional seating outside. “That would avoid crowds and give the possibility to restaurants to practice social distancing in a safe way,” he said.
Although any change would need local approval, Langer said the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue and of the surrounding streets could be considered, as well as Second Street in Lewes.
“I think that's the way to have local industry survive and make it even more attractive,” he said.
Foreman said the idea is creative and will be noted as plans to reopen move forward.
“That's an interesting one to wrestle with,” he said. “I'm certain there are challenges both ways, but it's captured, and we'll make sure folks have that to consider.”
In addition to the seven Small Business Recovery Town Hall events, the state will host four similar virtual Recovery Town Hall meetings. For Sussex County, the virtual Recovery Town Hall will be held at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 6. Links for joining the town hall will be shared on social media, the Governor's Office said in a press release.