Florida - For some antique and vintage dealers the arrival of the global shutdown may merely seem like yesterday's news, but to others the Coronavirus close-out of storefront business traffic has felt more like an eternity than a brief hiatus from work - especially when it comes to a company's balance-sheet.
However, in recent days, a number of states and provinces across North America have either opened fully (like Georgia), or have started ramping up measures aimed at bringing their local economies back online. In Alabama, the state has allowed businesses to resume many normal practices beginning the first of May, while in Canada, the Province of British Columbia is preparing a staggered reopening for sometime later the same month.
While these measures can 'hopefully' be seen as an encouraging sign that we may be moving in the right direction when it comes to ending the Coronavirus pandemic, it certainly has to be weighed with a degree of caution against a premature opening that might set us back again to where we were just three short weeks ago.
When school staff writers reached out to a number of antique and vintage dealers across the continent to discuss the implementation of these new measures, it came as no surprise that there was a certain amount of trepidation from local business owners over how to proceed, along with some mixed feelings on the opening process itself.
Tim Clark, a semi-retired dealer from Birmingham, Alabama who owns a small storefront with mixed hours, said that he doesn't really see much of a problem when it comes to his own shop. "I'm only open part-time as it is," said Clark, "So without the lineups that you see in box-stores, I really don't anticipate having any problems with physical-distancing since there aren't usually that many folks in the store at one time anyway." Clark says he's more concerned about just getting people out to buy. "You can be open all you want, but if no one's leaving the house it won't do you much good."
For others in the business it's more a concern. Janet Williams, who manages an old red-brick grainery converted into a large antique and vintage storefront in rural southern Georgia says that it's simply about crowd control. "We're often slammed on the weekends," says Williams, "I can't honestly say that I can be two places at once in this huge space while trying to maintain social-distancing between folks who are shopping." Williams feels that her job is important, but she's not sure if she wants to risk everything on having to police customers about safe behavior during the pandemic. "I'm sixty-three," says Williams, "I'm right in the sweet-spot for the virus to do some damage, so I'm really going to have think about this carefully before deciding on whether or not to come back into work."
While many of the governors of the states that are either open, or soon to be open for business are claiming that the roll-outs are being conducted based on scientific data, these claims themselves seem to be in stark contrast to the health and scientific recommendations being made by other government officials and scientists. "It's confusing as hell," says Harold White, a dealer in Texas who recently just took down the plywood from his storefront windows. "I closed early, and now I'm going to reopen early," says White. During the start of the pandemic White claims that he locked everything up prior to the overall shutdown and decided to sit it out. "I waited and watched, but nothing ever really came to our neck of the woods, so I'm willing to open back up and and see what happens." William's acknowledges that his twenty-two year old daughter who is currently out of school will be doing most of the face-to-face time in the shop. "She wants to work, and I'm older, so were just trying to reduce the risks as much as possible," said Williams.
For the majority of dealers, getting back to work seemed to be the number one consideration - especially amongst the younger crowd. However, even in this context, there were particular problems related to this demographics desire to return to business. Sue King, a self-admitted late blooming millennial, who has her own antique booth at an east coast mall, and who likes to work the seasons first two Brimfield shows, says it's just not going to happen any time soon. "Our spaces are designed for large groups of people to congregate and browse when shopping," she said. "Having this type of crowd is certainly not going to be on anyone's list of top openings for an organized roll-out, which means I'll probably be sitting this out for a while."
Some businesses simply say there's not really much choice when it comes to whether or not they'll be opening back up in the near term. Robert Foley, who was contacted last month, says that Internet sales have continued to remain relatively strong since the pandemic began. "I think I was surprised like everyone," said Foley, "but even more so four weeks on, and I'm still shipping stuff out." Foley admits that the bricks & mortar component of his New York business will probably have to wait. "I think we're getting close, but it's really going to be up to the Governor and state to give us the green light."
While the overall consensus from many of the dealers was the desire to return to work due to obvious financial considerations and needs, there also appeared to be a grudging acknowledgment that if shops and storefronts had to be shuttered for a bit longer due to overriding health concerns, than so be it. "This is still a completely fluid situation," said Sue King, "I would love to think about hitting the spring and summertime Brimfield shows, but right now that's just not a reality - but who knows - maybe tomorrow it will be."
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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