Local businesses trying to cope with restrictions

The drive-thru at Arby’s in Huntington became the sole way for that business to meet the needs of its customers after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered all restaurants in the state to close their dining rooms as a way to help cut down the possible spread of COVID-19.
The drive-thru at Arby’s in Huntington became the sole way for that business to meet the needs of its customers after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered all restaurants in the state to close their dining rooms as a way to help cut down the possible spread of COVID-19. Photo by Scott Trauner.

Locally, the threat of the coronavirus has impacted community businesses in a variety of ways, keeping cars off streets downtown but lined up at fast food drive-through windows.

In response to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s ban on sit-down dining, the Huntington Arby’s, like other businesses, has been utilizing its drive-up service and making its indoor store a carry-out only order counter.

Assistant Manager Jennifer Nevil says employees are going the extra mile to make sure the restaurant is virus-free, utilizing extra hand washing and cleaning of surfaces.

“It’s not been too bad, really,” Nevil says. “It’s a little slower but it’s still pretty good.”

Nevil adds that Arby’s is normally open until 10 p.m., but if customers are few the store may close an hour early.

Nearby at the Owen’s store, changes have been implemented to allow employees to clean and restock the shelves. When customers call the store they are greeted with a new message that gives new hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily until further notice. The message also states employees will not check on availability of items for purchase. Store Manager Waide Voght says shelves have been bare but they are coping with it to the best of their ability.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” he adds. “From day to day we don’t even know what we’re going to get … What I’m out of today I’ll have in tomorrow.”

The store also offers its ClickList grocery pickup service, accessible online or through the Owen’s or Kroger apps for Smartphones. There is a charge for the service. Also, some products unavailable in stores can be purchased online through Kroger’s shipping service.

Walmart also offers a pickup option at its Huntington store for those who shop online. But what shoppers want may not be available.

“Business is fantastic – but we don’t have anything,” said one assistant manager.

At the store, hours are now 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

One silver lining in the coronavirus crisis is the price of gasoline – which, for those who can’t stay home and must travel – has fallen since the demand has dropped off, making filling up their tanks a bargain.

Nick Stanley, co-owner of JJ’s Convenience Stores, says all of its stores are open, including its JJ’s Pit Stop, JJ’s Washroom and JJ Java, which offers carry-out only service via its drive-through window.

“We are just chugging along, keeping our employees employed and serving our communities,” he says. “We’re doing extra things. We’ve had trouble getting hand sanitizer, so we’ve worked with a different vendor … We’re able to get hand sanitizer because they make it directly, so we’re able to do that.”

The shelves are a bit more bare when it comes to staples like milk, bread and eggs. Stanley says, adding deliveries of new stock are depleting quickly. But there is plenty of gasoline for sale at all stores.

JJ’s is also beefing up its cleaning protocols, using bleach in food areas and a strong disinfectant in non-food areas, he says.

“We’re doing everything we can to kill the virus, if it did happen to come in,” Stanley says.

Some businesses have actually experienced somewhat of a windfall in offering food – namely pizza – via delivery, that customers don’t have to wait in line for, go out of the house to eat and is readily available to the public.

Patrick “PJ” Felton, owner of PJ’s Paesan’s Pizza, says the pizza shop has seen an uptick in orders, but he says he and his staff are being “very cautious” about how they go about business.

“We want to make sure we are healthy, we are providing food for anyone with a need and business is good,” he says. “We haven’t seen much of an effect yet, but I expect that it will pick up gradually – or maybe all at once.”

Felton says customers have called the store to make sure employees are wearing gloves when they make their pizzas. He confirms that everyone at Paesan’s wears gloves when handling food and they are being thoroughly clean by wiping down food preparation surfaces that are used frequently.

There are also plenty of pizza fixings in stock, he reports.

Felton also owns Legends Sports Bar – which has ironically experienced the opposite effect of the pizza place.

“As soon as the report came out that we had to be closed, the report came out on Monday. Thankfully, we’re already closed on Monday at Legends,” he explains. “We will not re-open until April 1, or when we’re told we’re able to. … If we can’t have customers come in we can’t do anything about it, unfortunately.”

As a member of Huntington’s Common Council (at-large), Felton also sees the city’s small business community hard-hit by the restrictions as the country copes with the pandemic.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that is worried about my employees, financially, health-wise,” he says. “Hopefully everyone out there is being cautious and health is a major concern, not just for ourselves but for our employees and our customers. We just hope that everyone out there is in good health.”

Downtown, traffic was nearly non-existent on Jefferson Street Wednesday morning. One of the businesses affected by the COVID-19 response is the Party Shop, which had to shoo away its regular indoor customers in favor of carry-out service. Business has been slower, but owner Lynette Dowden refuses to look on the negative side.

“We’re just trying to be super-positive, put smiles on people’s faces and trying not to be negative at all and putting God in charge,” she says.

“We are considered a ‘take-out’ so unfortunately we can’t have people come in and congregate and loiter, but I think everyone has been excellent to us to understand that.”

Dowden says the store is working hard to keep its normal, day-to-day operations, while getting customers in and out as quickly as possible.

She encourages customers to call ahead with their orders, a small change that has been working out well.

“We have even taken drinks to cars as people need assistance there, just to keep things moving quickly,” she adds.

Dowden says during this unprecedented time of upheaval, she has faith that God is in control.

“We just have to say that no, he didn’t make this happen, but he’s certainly going to be there with us to go through it,” she says.