AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The slow, arduous process of reopening the Texas economy took another step Friday.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s “retail to-go” approach to get businesses operating again took effect Friday. It allows businesses to take orders and either deliver them to customers’ homes or have customers pick up their order curbside, so long as they don’t enter the store.
“Because we’ve seen that this model works while also containing COVID-19, we believe that all stores in Texas should be able to operate retail to go, ” Gov. Abbott said.
This will allow all the stores deemed nonessential by previous COVID-19 executive orders to start operating again.
With this model, contact between customers and store employees is kept to a minimum. All payments, if possible, should be done over the phone or online. If that’s not possible, all measures should be taken to limit contact during the payment process. When picking an order up curbside, the customer should open the trunk or back hatch for the store employee to place the order in it.
Store employees are required to be trained on how to disinfect and clean surfaces properly, be screened for fever and other potential COVID-19 symptoms before work, wear a face covering and maintain a 6-foot social distance from other employees at all times.
In places like Fredericksburg, a town that relies heavily on tourism and its retail shops, this provides a glimmer of hope for business owners.
“I’m hoping that just opening that opportunity for customers will make people think, ‘Oh I can start shopping again,’ which would be great. It’s going to be challenging. I don’t think that there’s going to be this big surge of people all of a sudden coming to Fredericksburg,” said Jill Elliott, owner of Haberdashery Boutique.
On famed South Congress Street, down the street from the Texas Capitol, the team at Allens Boots has reopened with new protocols.
The 43-year-old boot and hat store was not deemed essential by the state, though patrons might call it quintessential. Allens is now taking customers on virtual tours of the store, personalizing the shopping experience based on what the customer is looking for.
“If they asked for light-colored boots, I would walk up to this boot here, let them take a look at it,” employee Ruben Salcedo said.
“These are unprecedented times for everyone, and we figured giving a virtual shopping experience would be a good way to get people out of their house while staying at home,” Salcedo said.
While some businesses offer the virtual tours of the shelves so customers can shop from the couch and pick up from the curb, others are turning to loyal supporters on social media.
“We kind of ramped up social media, just really trying to reach out to our customers and accommodate however we could, whether it be free shipping, delivering gifts to moms who had baby showers canceled, new moms that were desperately needing the ‘take home’ outfit if they didn’t know what gender they were having and delivering stuff to their front porch,” Kathryn Kenjura, owner of Picket Fence Baby and Maternity in Austin said.
“I don’t take COVID lightly, but the economy cannot withstand the way that it’s been the last six weeks,” she said, pointing to her dwindling sales. Her business was just approved for a federal small business loan.
“As abruptly as it stopped, it’s not going to turn a switch and it all just come right back to the way that it was,” she explained.
Kenjura was grateful to be able to reopen her business Friday under the Governor’s loosened orders.
“It’s great to see our customers faces again,” she said.”Certainly a step in the right direction and obviously we look most forward to have in the store fully opened, but we’re thrilled at the governor’s decision to allow us to open our doors halfway and be able to serve our customers who we hope are so anxiously awaiting to get back in.”
“It’s been a hard time for a lot of moms and myself being a new mom and a first time mom, and it’s a very unique and special time and you want to come and shop for that baby that you’ve been long waiting,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
In Port Isabel, a tourism-reliant community along the Gulf Coast just miles from the Texas-Mexico border, Paul Wentzel hopes his specially-carved pelican statues will soon start flying off the shelves.
“Of course we’re cash-starved just like everybody else but we’re still here and we’re not planning on leaving,” Wentzel said.
Austin and Travis County announced the creation of a business task force that will help guide local leaders to reopen businesses. They are expected to have their first meeting Friday and have recommendations on how to move forward to leaders by May 8.
Gov. Abbott will announce more details Monday of his ongoing plan to reopen the economy.