Businesses In Northwest PA ‘Proceed With Caution’ As They Begin To Reopen

May 8, 2020

Twenty-four northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania counties moved into the “yellow” phase of Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening plan Friday. That means daycares are allowed to open, as are churches and most retail businesses. 

“They must abide by the underlying message of yellow: proceed with caution,” said Wolf last Friday, when he announced the move. “The yellow phase recognizes that outbreaks of COVID-19 are still possible … and all businesses will still need to operate under the orders and guidance that establish social distancing and cleaning protocols.”

This week, the Wolf administration released a document outlining those protocols, but some businesses are still unclear on what they need to do.

“I spent hours researching,” said Jim McLusky, director of operations at McLusky Showcase Kitchens and Baths in New Wilmington, Lawrence County. “I thought the guidance was really vague in the beginning.”

McLusky said it took him about a week to wrap his head around what his business needs to do to reopen to customers, and that he was grateful for the help of organizations like the Master Builders Association and Better Business Bureau.

“There was a lot of information that wasn't categorized … to be easily identified,” McLusky said. “You had to spend a lot of time reading and researching to see what was applicable to your business, so it was challenging.”

In addition to its retail showroom, the company does residential construction installing the products it sells. McLusky said, sometimes, it was hard to tell what guidelines were geared toward businesses providing in-home services, versus large commercial construction companies.

Frances Lastoria owns A Grand Day bridal boutique in New Castle, also in Lawrence County. She said she plans to open back up to customers on Saturday, but that some of the guidelines, like putting plastic barriers at registers, don’t make a lot of sense for her business. 

“They talk about hanging a plexi glass. Well, we're not like a Giant Eagle or a Sheetz where you hang a plexiglass,” Lastoria said. “I mean, I'm interacting with the customers before we get to that point where … they [put down] a deposit [on a dress].”

The New Castle municipal building. Lawrence County is one of the 24 that will be moved to the "yellow" phase of reopening.
Credit Shari Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

Lastoria said she disagrees with the way the Wolf administration has handled the shutdown. She’s worried about how she’ll recover financially, and said she feels like her business could have operated more safely than some other stores that have been permitted to remain open.

“You go to Wal-Mart and people are packed in there,” she said. “My store could have been opened all this time by private appointment, wearing masks, following all those guidelines, and there would have been me and one to two other people in the entire store.”

Owners of other businesses that were actually allowed to remain open decided not to. Sheryl Ligo owns Shearer’s Candy & Cake Supplies in New Castle, which is considered a specialty food retail store.

“I felt that it was irresponsible for me to stay open when I'm selling candy. I wasn't selling groceries,” she said. “It was important to me to keep this virus under control as best we could.”

Ligo decided to open back up on Wednesday, and is urging her customers to place their orders ahead of time for curbside pickup.

Still other businesses, such as KinderCare daycare centers, have no immediate plans to reopen. Melissa Everly is the Region Director overseeing dozens of facilities in western Pennsylvania and Ohio. She said they’ll open up their two Erie locations once enough families are ready to come back.

“We're still working to understand local family need. It's actually been minimal,” she said. “We're still looking at next week as well as following weeks, and we’ll open up just as soon as we have families that need us.”

With the exception of KinderCare, a national chain with more than $1 billion in annual revenue, businesses said they have major concerns about sourcing the disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and masks that will allow them to operate. But bridal boutique owner Frances Lastoria said after almost two months with no income, she’s got to open up.

“The only way to make money ... is to sell product, and in order to do that ... the doors need to be open,” she said.

The Wolf administration has cautioned that just because an area is moved into the yellow phase, that doesn’t necessarily mean green will follow.  If there’s an outbreak of COVID-19, restrictions could be put back in place.