The shelter-in-place order that has Georgia residents holing up also gives them plenty of opportunities to patronize shops for food, booze, medicine and other “essential” services. But for workers and owners in pandemic conditions, doing “essential” business is essentially challenging.
From pharmacies to construction sites, from pizza shops to liquor stores, businesses are forced to find new ways of doing nearly everything. Some deal with a crush of new customers; others face the disappearance of regulars. Workers aim to cut the coronavirus risk through precautions — or may be too scared to work at all.
Legal verbiage like “essential,” “critical” or “minimum basic operations” doesn’t make any of them immune from the pandemic’s impact on every facet of life. The following are how some local businesses are dealing with it.
The pizza place
The ban on dine-in restaurant business forced many to scramble to convert to takeout service. The local pizza place has the advantage of already being built around takeout and delivery. But it’s not immune from the economic ravages.
Napoli New York Pizza Italian Kitchen & Catering operates at 276 Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs, along the once-busy Roswell Road spine of the city.
“We’re struggling like everybody else who managed to stay open, I assume, just because daytime — you see what rush hour is like now,” says owner Kenan Atli. “…It’s a ghost town… Rush hour, you can just, like, dance around in the middle of Roswell Road.”
Nights used to be the slow time for Napoli, but now that home-delivery business is what the shop relies on, said Atli. “Obviously, we’ve lost all of our catering business,” he added.
But the shop remains fully staffed — only now with the table server running the cash register and the delivery driver wearing a mask and gloves.
“I just took this place over a few months ago,” said Atli. But the business itself is one of those that has been there seemingly forever — Atli says the cook has worked there since 2000 and the pizza oven has been blazing since 1972.
“We’re still around,” he said. “We’re still opening the doors, making sure the employees get paid.”
A pharmacy is a good business to be in during a pandemic. Getting items on shelves and safely into the hands of customers are the new challenges.
At Tuxedo Pharmacy & Gifts, an independent store at 164 West Wiecua Road in Buckhead, pharmacist Dawn Sasine says there have been a lot of new customers due to neighborhood and social media buzz.
“The community has definitely been rallying for small businesses,” she said. “…I think people feel more comfortable coming here than maybe a big chain or a grocery where they do have to go inside.”
The biggest challenge, she said, is finding suppliers to keep up the inventory. “Everything from the essentials — wipes, gloves, masks, etcetera — to the things that are keeping people home and occupied, [like] puzzles,” she said.
Yes, the “gifts” side of the business is booming, too, with what Sasine says is “tremendous” demand for puzzles and games. The pharmacy has ordered “hundreds and hundreds” of puzzles to refill the stock, she said.
The demand has the pharmacy staffed at normal levels, but working in a new world where customers come for curbside pickup only. “We’re just running around shopping for them,” Sasine said.
Also new in the pandemic era are demonstrations of local support. “We are overwhelmed and touched by the support of small businesses and the community,” said Sasine, describing people as dropping by to offer food, cards, positive comments “and just love.”
The liquor store
If a pandemic makes you want to throw back a few, you’re not alone — beer, wine and liquor stores have stayed open throughout the various shutdown and shelter orders. But you might want to raise a glass to the folks going through the challenge of selling the stuff at places like Cambridge Bottle Shop in Brookhaven’s Cambridge Square shopping center at 2036 Johnson Ferry Road.
“Business is OK, but we have to close early,” said manager Kenny Chaudhri. “There is an employee issue. Nobody wants to work.”
The staff members, he said, are worried about catching COVID-19 in the aisles. “They’re scared. They don’t want to come,” he said.
Chaudhri said he and his wife are running the store for now, letting customers in one at a time, or offering curbside pickup.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You know, it’s hard, not like normal times. This is a bad time.”
The construction crews
While doctors and nurses battle COVID-19 in the hospitals of Sandy Springs’ Medical Center area, work continues virtually next door on a new Hyatt House hotel. Overseen by the Sandy Springs-based national firm Choate Construction, it’s just one of scores of construction projects forging ahead in the pandemic, either because outdoor work is exempt from restrictions or the work is considered “critical” to public interests.
But doing that work in the pandemic era takes many special steps — even for an industry used to following safety rules.
“Our industry by its nature — we are safety-conscious more than a lot of industries,” said Michael Hampton, Choate’s chief administrative officer. “As an industry, it’s on our mind constantly.”
Now safety includes social distancing, masks, face shields, gallons of hand sanitizer, temperature checks for all workers, a ban on indoor meetings. Even the roll call is done without the customary passing around of a clipboard, Hampton said.
“I keep seeing creative ways of how guys… are setting up wash stations on projects where they don’t even have running water yet,” he said.
“So we’re doing everything we can to make that sure that, while our essential business continues, that there’s no risk to the workers on site,” he said.
That also means projects may not be at “100% efficiency,” he said, but the company aims to follow the safety guidelines, and “that’s what the workers want as well.”
Asked about the feasibility of maintaing social distancing on construction sites where workers may have to handle tasks as a team, Hampton acknowledged that might not be 100%, either.
“I wouldn’t say if I walked on any site that I couldn’t find two workers possibly in close proximity, but in a lot of these situations they’re family members,” he said.
In figuring out new ways of doing business during the pandemic, Hampton said, contractors are all in it together.
“And one of the nicer byproducts of this is the collaboration that’s happening between contractors because, you know, this isn’t a competitive advantage,” he said. “So we are sharing our best practices with our competitors and they are likewise.”