WEST CHESTER — As Chester County transitions to the "yellow" phase next week, some businesses will reopen after more than nine weeks, but life will be far from normal.
Retailers and manufacturers will be permitted to reopen June 5 in Chester County, along with pet groomers. Restaurants can offer outdoor seating. But all indoor entertainment and recreation will continue to be closed, along with gyms, spas, hair salons and large gatherings of 25 or more will be prohibited.
The YMCA of Greater Brandywine is set to open summer camp and childcare on June 8 once the county goes into the yellow phase.
"The yellow phase is certainly good news for folks, but it will be the beginning of a very long process," said Guy Ciarrocchi, CEO of Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry. "It will take time to get employees back, time to get supplies back from the supply chain, but it's an important start. But people will still not be able to go inside restaurants and we think they should be. Spring and summer is where restaurants make a great deal of money."
The Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry was one of 27 Chambers in the region asking Gov. Tom Wolf to allow businesses to open sooner. Ciarrocchi said he can't understand why businesses can't reopen as long as they comply with guidelines set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
"Neighboring states like Maryland have done it, and there's no reason we can't move things along," Ciarrocchi said. We think that more (counties) should be opening in yellow, and green should be saved for large events, football games, concerts, large gatherings and pretty much everything else."
In an open letter to state legislators across southeastern Pennsylvania, CEO's representing dozens of chambers of commerce said further delays in opening could force some business to close for good.
"We are concerned that countless businesses in the Commonwealth will never re-open," they said in the letter. "And, as more and more states re-open sooner, faster and more extensively, we are concerned that Pennsylvania businesses will increasingly lose business to competitors in Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Delaware, and elsewhere. Some Pennsylvania companies may lose business that they will never get back. That turn of events will cause our economic pain to be deeper and to last longer."
Ciarrocchi said he is very worried that some businesses that were low on cash flow before the pandemic will not reopen.
"I am concerned with sole proprietors, restaurants, hotels, barbers, beauty parlors and people in the manufacturing industry" he said. "Pennsylvania is moving at a slower pace, and may lose their place in the supply chain to a neighboring state, business they may never get back."
Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz said the reopening process will be gradual.
"I think business owners are anxious to open restaurants with outdoor seating, and I think shops are going to try to open and get out there," Moskowitz said. "I think it will be gradual. We will see some on Friday and more on Saturday."
Chester County, Moskowitz, has had the lowest coronavirus death rate in the five-county metropolitan region, and she said it's because people have been heeding the guidelines.
"I think everyone here is cautious," she said. "And I really hope that (even with the red phase lifted) people will continue to wash their hands and wear those masks. It's critical to control this."
Nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians are out of work. Thousands more have had their paychecks cut. More people applied for unemployment in April in Chester County than in the past 15 months combined. Some businesses have already closed permanently. Many more businesses are on the brink of closing.
"We need a true reopening plan, now ,Ciarrocchi said. "Our unemployment system was not built for 32 percent of the workforce to all be unemployed at the same time. For (Chester County) to be at 14 percent unemployment when the state is at 32 percent is of little comfort. The sooner that we can start this engine back up, the economy will be stronger."
Some businesses have been getting by on a digital platform, but the ones that can't may not be able to survive if the current situation continues.
"There is no digital bed and breakfast experience," Ciarracchi said. "There is no digital haircut."
Ciarracchi is quick to point out that reopening should be done cautiously, while weighing the risks.
"There will always be some degree of risk," he said. "At this point, the professionals have told us ways to do things. The county has a task force. The Restore Chesco web page is up and going. We just need the go-ahead from Harrisburg."
The Chester County Commissioners late last week launched RestoreChesterCounty.org, a comprehensive online toolkit that offers guidelines specifically designed for Chester County’s businesses and residents as they move from the red phase to the yellow phase on June 5.
On the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry's web page, https://www.cccbi.org/ are links to paycheck protection loans and grants. There are still $70 billion left for business owners, and many of the loans can be converted to grants if used in the right way.