It’s been tough times on pandemic-shuttered Main Street in Chester Borough. Last week, Mayor Janet Hoven texted the unvarnished reality and a reopening plan to Gov. Phil Murphy.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures and I apologized for reaching out like I did. But I felt like our Main Street was in a position that it may not reopen,” she said.
Minutes later she got a reply.
“He said he sent my text to staff and they were working on it,” Hoven said.
Eight days later, the governor announced that he was loosening non-essential retail restrictions by allowing curbside pick-up, but no customers in stores.
“We can get small businesses back up and running in a manner that continues to protect both workers and shoppers,” Murphy said during his daily press briefing on Wednesday. “Lots of people reached out on this, but I want to give a shout out to Mayor Janet Hoven of Chester Borough.”
“I was pleasantly surprised when he sent me a text about 11:15 yesterday morning letting me know that he was going to announce curbside would be allowed at the press conference yesterday,” she said. “We understand it’s baby steps. We understand that we have to make sure we don’t have any spike.”
One of the Main Street shops is The Maple Shop. It farms its own syrup in Vermont and sells syrup-making equipment. Online and local pickups don’t match in-person sales, according to owner Jon Rybkiewicz.
“People are afraid to get out. People are afraid they’re not going to have an income. They’re not going to spend money because they don’t know if they’re going to have another paycheck. So the people that are spending money, it’s been a real savior for us,” said Rybkiewicz.
“The governor’s response is great. It’s a slow start. It’s going to be, and that’s OK, but it’s a start,” he added.
It’s the same story for the Hester family. It owns five stores on Main Street.
“Our sales are about the same as about having one and a half stores open. It’s been a major drop off,” said Comfortably Chic co-owner Danielle Hester.
The Hesters turned to the internet, hosting an hour-long Facebook show and tell to reach customers.
Dainty Dandelion’s owner says thank goodness she finally set up an online store this year, saying the pandemic has shifted what she sells.
“I bought these hand bands, but you can use them as masks. I’ve been selling out. Normally, I wouldn’t buy them because I’m a home décor and gift shop. Hand bands, no, but they’re selling out,” said Monica Naselli, the shop’s owner.
Some shop owners on Main Street say they can’t wait for curbside pickup to begin on Monday.
“It will probably mean everything because now I can, without shipping, I can definitely get customers that live right here within a 10 mile radius. I can give them my items without them saying ‘well, I don’t want to pay shipping.’ I just get it right to them at no extra cost,” said Naselli.
The mayor says the borough will post signs and strongly encourage social distancing. Rybkiewicz, The Maple Shop’s owner, says he hopes customers stick to the rules:
“You can be scared but you don’t have to be fearful. This is a time that we need to help each other out,” he said.