When Diana Edwards closed the doors at her Lemon Twist Boutique in March, it was in response to the growing concern of COVID-19 that quickly became a business decision that created a lot of stress and concern.
Now that many restrictions have been lifted, Edwards now realizes the struggles and uncertainty of the past six weeks were more about relationships than a bottom line.
“It was more than selling dresses,” she said. “That’s what I learned. You learn a lot about your customers; your customers learn about you. You get a different perspective of what’s important.”
Business is open for many businesses along the First Coast. Restaurants were allowed to reopen 25% of their dining rooms and no longer have to rely solely on to-go and deliveries. Retail stores could open the doors as long as they limit the number of customers to assure everyone is maintaining social distancing.
The gates at beaches and parks have been unlocked. Some employees now are allowed to leave the solitude of their medical sequesters to return to the workplace.
“It felt like a breath of fresh air when I got to work Monday,” Edwards said from her shop at Sawgrass Village shopping at Ponte Vedra Beach. “It was wonderful to see our customers. It was great to get back to work.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis initiated Phase I of Florida’s reopening on May 4. It was the first time in more than a month chairs and tables weren’t stacked in what had become an abandoned dining room at Donovan’s Irish Pus in St. Augustine.
“Fortunately, it finally worked out,” said Donovan’s co-owner Ethan Dougherty. “We’ve been waiting for the governor to give us the green light. It was everything to get back open.”
Donovan’s did what most restaurants did to survive – it worked with a skeletal staff to offer deliveries and take out food. He now has tables spaced a least six feet from each other and business is slowly coming back.
“Everyone will come back at their own pace,” Dougherty said. “Our customers kept us going. We were able to keep the lights on. The [to-go] business kept us going. But so was the [emotional] support we got. It was both.”
Ethan’s sister, co-owner Kristen Dougherty, spent Monday personally thanking everyone who finally were able to step inside the pub.
“Our customers were the only reason we made it,” she said.
The next phase is expected to allow for gymnasiums, fitness centers, barber shops and salons to reopen. Restaurants also are hoping maximum seating will be expanded to 50% capacity.
Edwards said she decided to close her boutique on March 19, just a few days after THE PLAYERS was canceled after one round. DeSantis already had closed bars and nightclubs two days earlier, so she knew retail stores soon would follow.
She was correct.
“It was stressful, the uncertainty of the situation was stressful,” she said. “Now I’m cautiously optimistic.
“Outside of work, I have a family. Everybody has a different set of circumstances. Everyone still has some concerns. Getting the doors opened again was a big relief. It’s healthy to be returning to some kind of normalcy.”