Time for many to get back to business
Carbon County businesses transitioned into the yellow phase of Pennsylvania’s reopening Friday. Some re-opened after a two-month hiatus, while others were able to expand on curbside offerings.
For those dealing with the life-altering changes brought about by COVID-19, customers were pleased to have at least a smidgen of normality.
Tracy Hawk of Lehighton had a bona fide reason to stop at Koch’s TV & Appliances in Lehighton.
“I just bought a new house,” Hawk said. “I need all the appliances.”
Hawk was looking to stock her new home with a washer, dryer, stove, and refrigerator, among other household items.
Kevin Koch, president of Koch’s TV & Appliances, was only too willing to assist Hawk with her home appliance needs.
“We’ve been open,” Koch said. “We were considered essential on the service side, but nonessential on the retail side.”
Koch said the business operated in a “common sense way.”
“We locked our door, put a doorbell out to limit the number of people,” he said. “Our staff was wearing masks a week before it was mandated.”
Koch said his business had an “unbelievable” end of March and through April, so much so, that he had to give his guys off an extra day so they would not be going into as many homes.
Koch is proud to say in its 57-plus years of operation the business never had to lay off any of its employees.
ForBlocker Enterprises Inc. in Lehighton, the county’s move to the yellow phase will help ease things somewhat, according to service writer Troy George.
“Just going to be able to relax a little bit,” George said. “We’ve been open the whole time.”
George acknowledged that businesses slowed down quite a bit initially, but then picked up once the weather got nicer as people looked to ride their motorcycles.
“What it means for us here is that it’s easier for you to come in and shop around and find all the things that you need for the riding season.”
Country Junction in Towamensing Township is back to expanded store hours, with Carbon County’s move to the yellow phase.
“We’re still taking the precautions we need to take to keep employees and customers safe, but we’re so excited we can finally welcome all of our customers back into the store so they can get out of the house a little bit and have some fun,” said Diane Sander.
“It’s been really hard for our business. We were open for essentials and had a lot of support, which we are grateful for, but we’re really ready to welcome the rest of the local community in and get back to business.”
Country Junction has required that masks must be worn and temperatures be taken upon entering the building using an infrared thermometer. Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout the store and customers are asked to maintain 6 feet of social distance.
“I have no problem with any of the measures stores are taking to get us safely back inside,” customer Jeff Schrantz said Friday morning. “It’s good to see the restrictions lifted because many of these stores wouldn’t be able to make it much longer and I’d hate to see us lose our local options and have to rely on the big box stores.”
My Store, in downtown Palmerton, opened earlier this week, also with the mask requirement and social distancing guidelines in place.
Summer is usually a slower time at My Store, Zellner’s colleague Megan Hahn said, but that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 shutdown didn’t have a sizeable impact.
“Fall is usually our busiest season, but this has been a lot of business to lose out on,” Hahn said. “We’ve gotten a lot of thank you comments this week from customers.”
Since opening Monday, the crowd at My Store has been steady.
“It was very hard to see our customers missing out and not being able to do our orders to keep stock,” employee Amber Zellner said. “We’re lucky just to be able to reopen.”
My Store’s neighbor, Bert’s Steakhouse and Restaurant, had been open for takeout and delivery like many other area restaurants, but on Monday, it opened its doors to dine-in customers on a limited basis.
“As of Friday, we move into yellow where take-out and delivery is preferred... but we’ve had enough!” the restaurant posted on Facebook.
“We still have bills to pay and soon our name would be on the “closed permanently” list.”
Bert’s opened with limited menu and limited staff, and will be distancing everyone in its three separate rooms where needed. Sanitizer is located at the door, staff will wear masks and gloves, and only one person is at the register at a time. Each booth/table will be sanitized before the next patrons are seated.
In the restaurant Friday morning, owner Jaclyn Costenbader said the decision to allow in-person dining was done out of necessity.
“It is something we have been needing to do,” Costenbader said. “I know (state Rep.) Doyle Heffley has been trying to get restaurants open at 50 percent capacity. Each of our three rooms here can safely fit 60 people, but I would never have gone over the 25 people per room.”
The announcement that Bert’s was allowing dine-in customers received well over 100 likes and comments on Facebook.
“We’ve had great responses in person and on Facebook,” Costenbader said. “We had a table of 7 come in last night and a table of 5 have a reservation coming in today. We’re very thankful for the response.”
Costenbader said Chip Solt, owner of Joey B’s in Palmerton, purchased a $25 Bert’s gift card and was giving it away to one of his customers Friday night. Joey B’s is also giving away $25 gift cards to three other Palmerton businesses; Joe’s Place, One Ten Tavern and the West End Saloon.
“I think it’s just wonderful,” Costenbader said. “We have to stick together as businesses.”
Pete Herbott, the owner of The Breakfast and Bagel Shop in Albrightsville, said business has definitely picked-up since the announcement came that the county was going to turn yellow. After being shut down for three weeks during the peak of the pandemic, the shop reopened for curbside pick-up, but only saw five to 10 customers a day at first.
Mike Barry, who works at the shop, said, “We used to write people’s names down. Now, we’re writing down their vehicle (to deliver the order).”
Slowly business is getting better. They now have 50 to 100 customers a day, and Herbott’s hoping the tourists start to come back, too.
A few doors down, DiMaria Realty LLC opened after months of being closed. Gov.Tom Wolf gave real estate companies across the state the green light on Tuesday to open. That meant Crystal Olivera could settle on her new house in Carbon County. She had just picked up the keys Friday morning after moving to the area from Luzerne County.
“It’s so much better,” she said. “We can actually get out.”
Porvaznik’s Flowers and Gifts in Lansford closed back in March and reopened for curbside as soon as they were allowed.
Even though businesses may allow customers inside, the flower shop is still exclusively doing curbside.
To prevent the need to come inside, Porvaznik’s have placed their flowers outside and in the display windows with numbers so customers may call in, order the number they like, and pick it up from outside. Megan Andersen, owner of Porvaznik’s, said she wanted to keep her customers safe - especially her elderly customers.
Fred Johnson Paint & Wallpaper in Lansford is not reopening with the rest of Carbon County. Fred Johnson, owner, said he’s been in the store working but he won’t open to the public until the Wolf gives Carbon the “green light.”
As of Friday, Half Time Bar and Grill at the Zoo is allowing customers to order to-go alcoholic beverages and food items and has opened up public seating outdoors.
Owner Kevin Zuercher said he’s put safety measures into place to protect customers. He’s posted signs reminding customers to remain 6 feet apart at all times.
Zuercher said he wanted an option for customers and bikers who come by, pick up food, and have no place to sit.
To make this happen, he was approved by the Lansford borough to use private property next to the bar as long as he fenced in the seating area to adhere to open container laws.
“This gives people somewhere to sit and keeps them from going inside,” Zuercher said, “(People won’t be) breathing in the same air and people are safer outside.”
The Zoo has been open the past couple months, as well as other restaurants in the area, but they were only able to be open twice a week, which Zuercher said didn’t bring any money in.
“All I was doing was keeping people employed, but it’s been hard,” he said. “I hope we can start making some kind of money with this.”
Terry Ahner, Bob Ford, Jarrad Hedes, Kristine Porter and Maria Rehrig contributed to this report.