Butler County business owners: Be ready for ‘new normal’ even when rules recede

The coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the retail and restaurant worlds, creating what some are calling “a new normal” and causing many to question how long its effects may last.

Richards Pizza co-owner Karen Underwood Kramer said although there will be an eventual relaxing or even phasing out of some aspects of coronavirus regulations, including social distancing, others may remain part of “the new normal.”

“A lot of the additional cleaning and sanitizing … might be something that stays at all restaurants,” Kramer said. “I think that people will be very conscious of it and (in) the restaurant business you want to do what’s best for your customers and for your employees. If that’s better practice, I think it’s worth sticking with it.”

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Mark Inman, owner of Middletown’s Bold Traditions Tattoo, said he believes the health and safety standards instituted during COVID-19 will simply become “the norm” for his business and others like it, destroying any semblance of spontaneity.

“It seems like anytime a new rule is tried, it never goes away, which is kind of a good thing in our industry but to this point I don’t know if it is a good thing,” Inman said.

One change, having doors locked and only allowing customers to enter one a time, is going to hurt many businesses, even those who are not entirely the same as his, he said.

“People are used to just walking around and then they just kind of fall into a shop somewhere,” he said. “You can’t do that anymore. We literally have to keep our doors locked and invite you in if we have the capacity to do it.”

Stephanie Gonya, co-owner of Miller St. Boutique in Fairfield, said she believes that no matter how long coronavirus restrictions stretch on, the new normal will include curbside pick-up and delivery options introduced by many retailers and restaurateurs during the stay-home phase. Many patrons became far more comfortable with online shopping and ordering even from local businesses, she said.

“We’ll for sure keep doing that,” she said. “That’s something that won’t stop, especially for working moms, because of the convenience factor. Obviously, the more convenient you can make anything for people, the more they’re going to appreciate that.”

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Casual Pint Hamilton co-owner Ann Marie Cilley said returning to any semblance of normal life in Ohio is more likely to occur if large spikes don’t occur, but doing business under COVID-19 constraints will be made easier if restaurateurs set the pace for precautionary measures and communicate with their customers.

“We tell people what our wait times are, we help them very easily understand, make it intuitive, where you can sit, where you can’t sit, provide options with the patio,” Cilley said.

She is glad Ohio’s restaurants were allowed to operate for carryout and curbside pick-up between mid-March and mid-May because it allowed for businesses to slowly re-acclimate to doing business once dine-in restrictions were lifted rather than going “from something to nothing.”

“We’ve been able to evolve, adapt and grow,” Cilley said.

Life under the new normal likely will include more of the same.

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Restaurant restrictions likely will be the new normal for a long time, according to Gina Isgro, co-owner of Gina’s Italian Kitchen & Tavern in Hamilton.

“I feel like it is what it is right now and we have to practice this to keep people safe,” she said. “This is the way that we have to be able to do this to open back up and people’s safety is more important than anything.”

Heather Gibson, co-owner of Middletown’s Triple Moon Coffee Company, said there are many opinions about how long the “new normal” is expected to last.

“I believe in science and I think that from everything I’ve heard from people who I would trust to know, they’re all saying we’re in this for the long haul,” Gibson said. “However, we don’t really know enough about this virus. We’re all running on a five-minute plan and I believe the scientists are doing that as well. It changes daily.”

She realizes the political and economic implications and the importance of reopening restaurants.

“We’ve got to get the economy going,” she said.

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Ohio’s reopening schedule

Tuesday: Gyms and fitness centers may reopen. Low-contact and non-contact sports, including baseball, tennis and golf, may resume.

May 26: Bowling alleys, mini golf, batting cages to reopen, training for student athletes to resume

May 31: Daycares and childcare facilities will be permitted to reopen.

June 1: Banquet halls may reopen. Crowd sizes limited to 300.

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