ABC News Coronavirus Small Business

In South Carolina, small business owners welcome governor's reopening announcement

Gov. Henry McMaster said the executive order will allow retailers to open again.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced Monday that the state will issue a new executive order to allow most retail stores to reopen, albeit under the strict new guidelines.

Many small business owners who have struggled to keep themselves and their employees afloat through the coronavirus crisis hailed the announcement as a welcome change.

Businesses will now be allowed to operate under a 20% occupancy capacity, equivalent to five people per 1,000 square feet, according to the regulations.

“In light of the common sense being shown by the great people of South Carolina, we are ready to take some steps that will help South Carolina assure that our economic health is as strong as our public health,” McMaster said.

Earlier this month, McMaster implemented a statewide “Stay Home or Work” order, which urged South Carolinians to stay at home as much as possible, but still allowed residents to travel to work, visit family, and obtain essential goods or services.

McMaster also closed all non-essential businesses, which many local retail store owners said made it nearly impossible for them to generate any profits.

Although South Carolina was one of 11 states not to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, three of the state’s largest cities, Charleston, Columbia and Mount Pleasant, all issued their own stay-at-home regulations.

“Our goal was to cause the most damage possible to the virus, while doing the least possible damage -- at least permanent damage -- to our businesses,” McMaster explained.

But some damage cannot be completely undone, some local retailers told ABC News.

Corinne Griesedieck, owner of Julep, a women's boutique in Charleston, South Carolina, said she plans to reopen her store on Tuesday.

“We will have shortened hours, and we will only allow two customers in the store at once. We might even do something along the lines of private appointments,” Griesedieck said, adding that she came in a day early in order to deep-clean the store.

The state is still encouraging residents to continue with curbside pickup and delivery, and if customers do decide to shop in-store, they are required to practice social distancing measures.

Griesedieck, who co-owns the boutique with her mother, Barbara, explained that the closure due to the pandemic has weighed heavily on their business.

“March and April are our two biggest months for sales, so we lost out on our biggest months of revenue,” Griesedieck said.

A majority of the store’s profits are based on the normally steady flow of tourism in the area, but with spring break trips and weddings canceled, Griesedieck said she worries about how long it will take for life and business to return to normal.

Although Griesedieck has been able to generate some business from the store’s website and social media following, revenue has been minimal compared to what the boutique would normally bring in.

She said that although she is eager to get back to work, she wonders if the reopening of businesses is too premature.

"I just feel like South Carolina has been a little behind, I don't know if we have reached our peak." Griesedieck said. "I am on the fence on whether we are jumping the gun. We are going to be extremely strict, it's not just going to be like how it was before.”

Catherine Gouge, another local business owner, agreed.

“The uncertainty of it all has left a huge impact on business. We are taking it day by day. I think we just hope that people continue to shop locally, and shop small,” Gouge told ABC News.

Gouge, whose mother, Leslie, founded Caroline’s Boutique in 2004, said even during the recession of 2008, her family never saw such a negative impact on business.

Gouge has been particularly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on her employees. Depending on the season, the boutique employs five to ten staff members.

“We have two retirees, and some younger ones. We haven't had to lay anyone off, but we want to make sure we are protecting our staff, especially our retirees,” Gouge explained.

In an effort to protect the health of both staff members and customers, Gouge said that customers will only be able to visit the boutique by appointment.

Although Gouge and her mother will go ahead with their plan to reopen, she worries about what lies ahead.

“This is all so unprecedented,” she said, “We are just figuring it out as we go.”

Both Griesedieck and Gouge have applied for loans through the CARES act, and are now awaiting word on whether or not they will receive compensation.

In addition to the reopening of retail stores, McMaster also announced the state would remove restrictions on public access points at state beaches.

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