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Small businesses seek to reassure customers during virus scare

Nathan Baker • Mar 15, 2020 at 8:30 AM

Uncertain how growing concerns over the novel coronavirus and encouraged social distancing would affect their revenues, local retail, entertainment and hospitality business owners attempted damage control this week.

On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to help contain the spread of the respiratory disease COVID-19, which can be deadly to elderly people and those with compromised immune systems. Health officials advised Americans, especially those in areas with outbreaks, to avoid large groups in public places.

Businesses that depend on customer volumes, like restaurants, movie theaters and hotels, wondered how they would survive if people stayed home, especially if the viral infection becomes widespread and prolonged.

Jamie Dove, owner of Main Street Pizza locations in Johnson City and Kingsport and County Line Pie in Chuckey, posted a statement Thursday to his and the restaurants’ Facebook pages urging caution and outlining the steps his employees were taking to prevent potential infection.

“For as long as our doors are open at the restaurants during this situation, I can assure you that the employees in our restaurants WILL be treating this seriously, and WILL be taking steps to protect themselves, and you as customers,” Dove wrote. “We will be doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and this includes understanding how exponents work, and that we must protect the most vulnerable among us, by limiting the spread, by listening to the scientists, and evaluating the information coming from places that are a week or two ahead of us.”

Rafael Zabala, whose Stir Fry Group owns and manages restaurants in each of the Tri-Cities, including Southern Craft, Label Restaurant, 620 State and Stir Fry Cafe, announced Friday that the restaurant group hired disinfection treatment company bioPURE to clean all of the restaurants.

BioPURE employees use a chlorine dioxide-based mist to kill germs on surfaces and in the air.

Zabala said the treatment would add an extra layer of cleanliness to the restaurants.

Marquee Cinemas, which owns and operates the Pinnacle 12 at Bristol, Tennessee’s, large outdoor shopping center, The Pinnacle, posted a testament to its theaters’ cleaning efforts on its corporate website and said they will remain open for the time being.

“It is important to share that, as always, we are operating under our already established high standards and closely monitoring the situation to ensure we are following recommended protocol in our theatres as established by the CDC, local health agencies, NATO, the National Organization of Theatre Owners and other industry leaders,” the statement read.

The theater chain will also take additional steps to clean and disinfect its facilities while open for business, and employees will perform extensive cleaning after hours.

“This means more frequent and extended cleaning of heavily trafficked areas and hard surfaces including entrances, box office, concession areas and restrooms,” according to the statement.

Managers will continue to monitor the cases of infection in the communities surrounding its locations and could alter the company’s approach if official recommendations change.

An email from the Washington County Economic Development Council urged area residents to keep local businesses in mind as they deal with expected revenue losses.

It urged locals to shop for products from small businesses online when possible, to place orders now that may normally be placed later in the year, to order takeout from restaurants and to buy gift cards, which will provide businesses with cash now to help them through austere times.

“First and foremost, prioritize and take all health and safety precautions for yourself and others in our community,” the email said. “Our community health as a whole depends on working together, and our small businesses are the lifeblood of the Downtown Johnson City economy. We want to make sure they continue to stay successful while maintaining appropriate public health safety measures.”

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