Local businesses prepare to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Local business owners across southwest Virginia are getting ready to reopen their doors.

On April 24, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) released his blueprint for easing business restrictions in the Commonwealth. His executive order closing some non-essential businesses is set to expire on May 8.

To prepare for what Gov. Northam’s reopening plans might entail, economic development leaders from the Roanoke Valley, New River Valley, and Alleghany Highlands are allowing business owners to virtually engage with one another.

The Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center (RRSBDC) will host a conversation via Zoom about how businesses can reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hour-long discussion will include topics on health safety, retail, restaurants, protective gear, customer experience, and marketing. Organizers will also share a “We Are Mask Friendly” graphic for business owners to download and post at their storefront for customers and staff to see.

A panel of health officials, as well as restaurant and retail experts will also be available to further conversations.

This virtual meeting is just one of many that the RRSBDC hosts each week. For several weeks, staff members have been in frequent contact with small businesses in regards to lending options, including some who have received funds through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Although the event was announced last Friday, organizers are continuing to see a great amount of interest from local businesses.

More than 70 people have pre-registered for the discussion, but organizers say they’re anticipating more than 100 people to participate in the video call.

Amanda Forrester, Director of the RRSBDC, says the support of other economic development departments has been very helpful. While other localities are doing their own initiatives, Forrester says it’s important to showcase a regional aspect of a business community working together.

“Regionally, we need to be looking at this too. The more our businesses can support and love on each other, the better we are, and regionally that can happen,” says Forrester.

However, not all business owners are showing interest.

Karena Clinton is the co-owner of R.T. Smith’s Delicatessen in downtown Roanoke. Like many, she’s noticed a dramatic decline in customers.

“We usually see 200 people a day. Now, we’re lucky if we see 30 to 40 people. By just watching the [store] windows, you don’t see a lot of people walking by anymore,” says Clinton.

Clinton says she saw the upcoming event through her Facebook page. She adds it wasn’t something she was interested in, because unlike other businesses, her deli has been open throughout the pandemic.

“I get people who might be reopening. They could get some good tips, tricks, and ideas on what they can do on how to open and make [their business] a safer environment. But having been open this whole time and never really closing, we feel like we got a fairly good handle on how we’re keeping everything. Making sure we’re keeping up with social distancing guidelines,” says Clinton.

Forrester says she hopes the event is an opportunity for business owners to be involved in the conversation, rather than be lectured to.

“We really want to make them part of the conversations. We want to hear what their ideas are, what they’re doing, what they can share with other business owners, and really having that community experience,” says Forrester.

The virtual discussion will take place Wednesday, April 29 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. via Zoom.

The event is free and open to all business owners, but those interested are asked to pre-register for the event.

For more information about the event, click here.

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