COVID-19 COVERAGE

Businesses feel pinch of reopening regs

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With the start of Phase 2 of the state’s reopening on Monday, two businesses at different ends of the city, offering vital services, are wrestling with the challenges of providing safe environments with reduced clients and making enough money to sustain operations.

Mary Lou Reynolds was excited early Monday morning when George, 4, and Craig, 5 became the first to return to Wonderkids on Alhambra Road. Their father, Ryan Switzer, a full-time aircraft mechanic with the Rhode Island Air National Guard, said he and his wife, who has been working from home, shared keeping the boys occupied while the daycare was closed. He was happy to have Wonderkids reopen.

“They learn a lot and they have fun,” he said. He especially likes the breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack the facility provides.

But pre-school isn’t the same. The day starts with a temperature check while the parents are present. There were questions of the parents and they are expected not to bring their kids in if they are showing signs of being sick or have come in contact with someone who has the virus.

Reynolds and all her staff wore masks, and during the weeks they were closed they cleaned everything in the place. It doesn’t stop with a single cleaning, either. Toys, books and surfaces the kids may touch or mouth need to be sanitized regularly. It’s a lot more work.

Mark Maggiacomo of Louie’s Barber Shop in Conimicut was questioning how he was going to meet all the requirements and run a business, too. Maggiacomo, who is the sole barber, has been bombarded with phone calls ever since salons and barbershops were listed among businesses reopening under Phase 2. The regulations are daunting, allowing no more than one customer per barber in the shop.

“They’ll need to stand outside or wait in their cars,” Maggiacomo said.

So as to bring some order to the system, Maggiacomo has advised customers to install the app Booksy on their cell phones that will allow customers to check his schedule and make an appointment. However, Maggiacomo notes that many of his customers are elderly and don’t own smart phones. They have flip phones. He’s right. Of the seven men waiting outside of the shop Tuesday, none had booked an appointment.

Maggiacomo said regulations are “out of control.”

He is required to use a different cape for each customer, wear a sanitized jacket and have closed trays. He can’t use a brush to brush off hair.

“It’s going to be very time consuming,” he said.

Maggiacomo has installed air filters and removed the seven chairs that once lined two walls of the shop. He has acquired disinfectants and will be wiping the chair and other surfaces down between customers.

Whether at Wonderkids or Louie’s, the regulations will add expenses and cut into revenues.

Reynolds, who has been operating for 33 years, is licensed for 88 children between the ages of six weeks and 5 years old. Now she is capped at 45 children, although she has not reduced her staff. She brought back staff when she received funding under the Paycheck Protection Program. Nonetheless, they didn’t go dark. Reynolds said Wonderkids stayed in contact with the families and the kids through their Facebook page. Also, staff members participated in development seminars.

Can it work with a reduction in children?

“I think that’s what making this challenging,” she said.

Reynolds has chosen not to increase her prices, saying many of her customers face their own financial concerns.

In the end, she sees herself as taking a cut. “That’s all you can do.”

Pre-COVID and on a good day, Maggiacomo estimates he cut the hair of about 22 customers. With the time it takes to meet regulations, he thought he might be capable of 15 haircuts on a good day. He is raising his rate from $12, where it has been for the past seven years, to $15.

Customers will be required to wear a facemask, which Maggiacomo doesn’t see as a problem. “Obviously,” he points out, “I won’t be able to trim beards.”

As for his own hair, Maggiacomo looked like he had just stepped out of a barbershop. In a sense, he had. Since the closure of the shop, he has had two haircuts, both the courtesy of his 90-year-old father, Paul, who ran the shop before turning it over the Mark.

At Wonderkids, with each returning child there was a flurry of excitement. They made a game of taking and recording temperatures and there were plenty of waves and questions “because we can’t do hugs right now.”

“It feels so good to have everyone back,” Reynolds said.

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