- Associated Press - Thursday, April 30, 2020

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - After having their doors closed due to statewide health orders for more than a month, a number of Cheyenne businesses are ready to serve the community once again, planning to open Friday when the state’s new health order goes into effect.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Gordon announced a modified order that will last from Friday until May 15 that allows barbershops, cosmetologists and tattoo parlors to reopen. The order also gives each county more flexibility in reopening their own economies.

“We’ve done that with an eye toward protecting our citizens,” Gordon said.

“I know people are impatient and anxious. It is absolutely imperative that we do not lose the ground we’ve gained, that we do not surrender our advance against this terrible virus,” Gordon said.

At Trujillo’s Barber Shop, owner Paul Trujillo said they’re just excited to get back to work, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported. On Wednesday, Trujillo said they were answering the phone every three minutes, scheduling appointments and letting customers know they’ll be open bright and early at 8 a.m. Friday.

“We were averaging between 15 to 20 haircuts a day,” Trujillo said. “When you go from that to nothing, obviously we’re excited to open up again.”

Though Trujillo said they were able to keep paying all five of their barbers while the shop was closed, he said the financial circumstances were tough as someone who is self-employed.

“It’s kind of scary not knowing when your next paycheck is coming in,” Trujillo said.

Under the new health orders, businesses like Trujillo’s must abide by certain health guidelines, including eliminating waiting areas, limiting the amount of people in the shop and requiring all staff to wear personal protective equipment. Trujillo and Presidential Barbershop owner Angel Maldonado said they’ll have customers wait outside for their services.

While Maldonado said they’ll be deep cleaning the shop and preparing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the new health order will take away from the barbershop experience that Presidential is known for.

Maldonado said without the waiting room, “it’s not going to have the atmosphere like it used to.”

At Electric Sabbath Tattoo, they’ll be taking an even stricter approach, only allowing one person in at a time to get tattooed. The customer will be allowed to bring along one additional friend or family member.

After being unable to receive any federal assistance from the CARES Act, owner and tattoo artist Jason Jeffers said before being able to reopen, they were just “living on a prayer.”

While nail and hair salons, barbershops and tattoo shops will be allowed to reopen without needing permission from health officials, along with child care facilities and gyms, a number of businesses are still waiting for the all-clear from local officials.

In an attempt to get businesses that are struggling back up to speed as quickly as possible, elected officials from Cheyenne and Laramie County, local health officials and business representatives formed a planning committee to create a comprehensive, phased plan for reopening.

These plans must first be approved by the state before they can be acted on, and Laramie County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gunnar Malm said they’ve already sent a rough draft of Laramie County’s plan to state officials. Malm said the committee hopes to have a finalized plan with three phases by Friday, along with more details of what each phase will include.

In tandem with local health officials, the committee will be watching a number of metrics to ensure reopening doesn’t make the situation worse, including looking at hospital capacities and the percentage of new COVID-19 cases. How quickly each phase is rolled out will be dependent on such data points, but the committee is looking at ways to include restaurants in the reopening.

“We just really want to focus on making sure that the recovery here locally, both economically and from the virus, is a V and not a W,” Malm said. “So we don’t want to do something prematurely or in a way that would create another spike.”

At its merchant meeting Wednesday, the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority also offered support to downtown businesses like Red Bison Home and Paramount Cafe that are preparing to reopen Friday or early next week.

The DDA, along with the Greater Cheyenne Area Chamber of Commerce and Visit Cheyenne, are putting together an easy-to-read guide for local businesses that will describe each phase of reopening and the health requirements.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we have an imperative to be as safe as possible and to help stop the spread,” DDA Executive Director Amber Ash said. “Some of it may seem burdensome, but the challenge becomes that if we’re not able to open back up in a safe environment, and then we have a huge spread of virus, we’ll wind up closing back down. That’s the last thing we want to do going into summer and Frontier Days.”

DDA staff gave businesses tips on how to function in this new normal, as Ash said some experts are projecting the effects of coronavirus could last as long as 18 months. The DDA suggested that businesses should look at how COVID-19 will affect spending habits into the future, and how they can adjust their business model to meet that demand.

According to the DDA, it’s also helpful during this time to place the hours of operation and process for curbside pickup or delivery clearly on the front of their websites.

The Wyoming Business Council has also been helping business owners prepare to reopen, hosting webinars this week that have already been attended by more than 350 people. The sessions on reopening the economy have been so popular that they planned more webinars on the state’s plans for Thursday and Friday, and you can register at wyomingbusiness.org/transition.

Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell recommended that business owners reach out to their industry associations and peers to ensure that industry-specific best practices are in place. He said carefully following guidelines and reopening based on data is vital in ensuring long-term success of local businesses.

“Taking a careful, data-driven and metered approach is important to public health, but it’s also very important to our businesses, because many of them have told us that a cycle of start-up and shutdown can be more devastating to them than the shutdown itself,” Dorrell said.

While local groups and officials are working to give businesses the tools they need, Ash said the nature of the situation is so unprecedented that there will be some bumps in the road.

“This is a very fluid situation, so it’s probably going to be changing and evolving as we continue to learn from the virus,” Ash said. “It’s probably going to be very frustrating as a business owner, as stuff is coming out at the last minute and you’re having to readjust accordingly. However, like I said, at the end of the day, we also have the obligation to try and stop the spread so that with the help of all merchants, we can continue to operate.”

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