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Ruston businesses begin to reopen

Thursday, April 30, 2020
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Leader photo by CALEB DANIEL

Pictured are vehicles in the parking lot of Ruston’s Hobby Lobby on Wednesday morning.

Businesses that had closed in Ruston are beginning to reopen, even as Louisiana remains under a stay-at-home order because of the novel coronavirus.

Hobby Lobby, in the Ruston Marketplace Shopping Center on Cooktown Road, reopened Tuesday. Downtown, at least one retail shop is reopening Friday; another, on Saturday, with others set to follow.

“We’re just super excited, even if we just see one or two people,” said Staci Faulkner, owner of Garden Baby.

Non-essential face-to-face retail trade has been effectively shuttered for more than a month.

On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency because of the coronavirus. On March 23, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered all nonessential businesses to close and placed a 10-person limit on gathering size.

Edwards re-upped the order to April 30, and on Monday, extended it again until May 15. Louisiana failed to meet the Trump administration’s guidelines for the first phase of economic reopening that officials had hoped would come May 1.

Those guidelines include going 14 days without a significant uptick in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

But Monday’s order — like the ones before it — left some loopholes. It did not expressly close a number of nonessential businesses by listing them in the order as establishments that must suspend operation.

Consequently, both business groups and some government officials are interpreting that to mean businesses including clothing stores, jewelry stores, furniture stores and everything not specifically forbidden in the gubernatorial order, can open — and could have been open all along.

Terms of this week’s extension require employees who have contact with the public to wear masks and continues the cap of 10 people inside the business at a time.

The 10-person limit apparently includes staff.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker said the city is aligning its practices with the state guidelines.

“We’re telling (businesses that wish to open) we’re following the governor’s guidelines, which means wear a mask and they’re only allowed 10 people in the store,” Walker said Wednesday.

He said the city is also “strongly” recommending businesses check their employees’ temperature. There’s also the 6-foot social distancing rule.

Children’s Shoppe owner Patricia Willis said she’s ready.

“I have my floor marked off 6 feet. I have my mask, and I bought two thermometers,” Willis said.

The Children’s Shoppe and other businesses have technically been open, offering curbside pickup, delivery and online options for customers.

But now, Willis plans to reopen her North Trenton Street store on Friday for regular shopping. Faulkner is opening Garden Baby, located on North Vienna Street, on Saturday.

Faulkner said her store is small enough that limiting to 10 customers won’t pose a problem.

“For us, 10 people would be a huge crowd,” she said.

Hobby Lobby has posted signs encouraging 6-foot social distancing.

The store has also placed tape at 6-foot intervals by the checkout counters, along with signs asking customers to stand behind the tape until it’s their turn to check out.

Employees are masked.

In some states, Hobby Lobby has defended its reopening by saying it’s an essential business because it sells cloth that could be used to make facemasks.

Hobby Lobby’s corporate public relations department did not respond to an email from the Ruston Leader. A recording on the phone says the customer service division is not taking calls.

Caleb Daniel contributed to this report.