Retail stores reopen as Idaho gets used to ‘new normal’

Catie Clark//May 13, 2020

Retail stores reopen as Idaho gets used to ‘new normal’

Catie Clark//May 13, 2020

Sandwich board advertising the reopening of Banana Ink in downtown Boise.
Boise’s Banana Ink store with its line of Idaho-themed apparel and accessories opened during the first week of May under the state’s Stage One reopening rules. Photo by Catie Clark

Stage One of Idaho’s “rebound” was well underway in the second week of May as retail stores reopened to a new normal of face masks, social distancing and limited numbers of customers.

The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce launched a weekly online meeting on Tuesdays to help member businesses with reopening under Idaho’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“Reunited Coeur d’Alene” has covered topics such as the steps needed to reopen brick-and-mortar stores,  expanding an online presence and how to improve financial standing.

The world of the new normal was captured aptly by the chamber’s slogan for reopening: “6 feet apart and it feels so good.”

The May 12 Zoom meeting included a discussion on whether people from Spokane could day trip to shop when the Stage One guidelines mandate a 14-day quarantine for visitors from out of state. The answer was that only out-of-state visitors on essential business are exempt from quarantine.

In fact, The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office has been stopping people with out-of-state plates and asking them to return home, according to KREM.

With no proven treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, the only known measures to prevent the spread of the virus are disinfection of surfaces, face masks and social distancing.

During the first week and a half of May, Idaho Business Review staff visited several retail stores in eastern and central Idaho and the Treasure Valley. One trend stood out: in areas with low COVID-19 cases such as Bingham, Oneida and Caribou Counties, shoppers were much more lax about face masks and distancing in contrast with places like Boise or Bellevue, where case numbers were higher.

On the other hand, reopened retail stores took measures to keep staff and shoppers safe and some local governments helped.

“What we’re really stressing is that as businesses open up, they’re able to protect their employees and protect their customers,” Alan Nygaard, City of Lewiston Manager told KLEW. “I think that’s what the rebounding is all about … we need the businesses to act accordingly to follow the guidelines. As they follow those guidelines, we’ll keep people safe and we’ll move onto the next phases and we’ll keep moving forward and not moving backwards.”

The consequence of not following the state’s guidelines could be a surge in COVID-19 cases followed by a renewed closure of businesses.

Banana Ink is well known in downtown Boise for its quirky Idaho-themed apparel and accessories. It reopened last week under a new normal that includes a limit of two customers in the store at any one time. Complimentary paper face masks hang on a rack just inside the door where they can’t be missed for those customers not already wearing masks.

When asked about business volume, store manager Lana Roth told the Idaho Business Review that the store was “not as busy as it could be … We’re grateful that those who are out and about and are willing to come and shop with us.”

“We are lucky that we have a local community that supports us here,” she added.

Roth mentioned that Banana Ink benefited greatly from its e-commerce site while the brick-and-mortar store on 9th Street was closed for seven weeks. She also said that the store received money from the federal Payroll Protection Program administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“We applied and received money through the PPP,” she said. “I am super grateful for that. It kept our staff employed.”

The Village at Meridian reopened for business with new rules to help customers and staff prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as more hand sanitizing stations, increased cleaning of high-touch areas and restrooms, increased signage regarding social distancing and the closure of the playground. The Village’s security force will remind individuals in groups to maintain social distancing.

Hugh Crawford, general manager of The Village at Meridian, told the Idaho Business Review: “The security deployment at The Village is in place to handle the needed requirements to protect the property and serve the customers. For now, The Village will be reminding the public about masks but not enforcing them as a requirement, as they are an open-air center and the state does not require masks, but rather recommends them. However, individual stores may have their own protocols.

“As of May 6, there were 16 retailers open for business, five retailers providing customer pickup at the stores, and 16 restaurants offering take-out and delivery services. Most should be open by May 16, but The Village cannot confirm a definite number as they have not heard from all of the tenants yet.”