As the midnight deadline for doing business in New Hampshire loomed on Friday, the N.H. Retail Association made a desperate appeal to Gov. Chris Sununu: Please amend the “stay at home” order and allow ‘non-essential’ businesses to offer curbside and delivery services.
“By allowing limited sales, New Hampshire can continue the practices in place preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus but lower the risk of permanent closure and allow residents to support locally-owned businesses,” N.H. Retail Association President and CEO Nancy Kyle said in a letter to Sununu on Friday morning.
On Thursday, Sununu reversed his position on mass closures and released Emergency Order #17, ordering all “non-essential” businesses to close and requiring Granite Staters to stay at home until May 4. The administration has also released a list of “essential” businesses exempt from the order — a list some have criticized as arbitrary.
“By its nature, any order to close businesses is sure to pick winners and losers (flower shops are open, but not bookstores; groceries who sell books are allowed to sell, but the locally-owned shop is not.) It is also a reality that chain businesses have the resources to weather this storm, but independent shops do not,” Kyle wrote.
Kyle also raised another reality: Without the abillity to generate any revenue, the “long-term survival” of many of the businesses her association represents “will be in question if we don’t allow them to continue in a narrow business model that fits within guidelines.”
It’s a message David Bellman of Bellman’s Jewelers in Manchester wants Gov. Sununu to hear.
“Until Thursday, we were holding our own. We weren’t breaking any records, but we were at least doing some business with people who felt comfortable coming in. It was enough to put a little cash in the bank and keep us afloat,” Bellman told NHJournal. “Now we’re going to be shut down.”
Bellman says forcing his business to close doesn’t make sense.
“We’re a small jewelry shop. We rarely have more than four customers in the store at any one time. We’re already practicing social distancing, we’re doing business online — I just had a conversation with someone on Skype,” he said. “I can walk around the store with my phone and show people the jewelry. I could even do business by appointment, one customer at a time.”
“So why can’t my employees and I come in and fill orders, but the pet shop down the street gets to stay open,” Bellman asked.
According to Kyle, her members are already going to great lengths to address the coronavirus challenges.
“We are also proud of the steps N.H. Retail Association members have taken to-date to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Kyle wrote. Beyond the roughly 15 percent of members who have already closed entirely:
- Nearly 20 percent have closed the retail space and are offering curbside pick-up and/or delivery (and have reduced hours);
- A third have kept the retail space open but are encouraging social distancing through signage, floor tape or store personnel; and
- Some have taken other measures like moving the credit card machine so customers process the card themselves, or they are not accepting cash at all.
“To allow New Hampshire’s independent retailers to compete and stay viable we ask that you amend the orders today, before the order goes into effect, to allow curbside and delivery in the manner Connecticut and Maryland have. Once stores currently engaging in curbside pickup stop that it is unlikely they could re-start that effort,” Kyle concluded.
All Bellman wants is to be treated like other retailers who have similar, or greater, interaction with the public.
“As long as it’s a level playing field — I’m good,” Bellman said.