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St. Charles County Businesses Look For Ways To Open, Adapt Amid Pandemic

Salt + Smoke's patio view on Main Street, St. Charles. The restaurant's owner Tom Schmidt said switching to curbside carryout, he's seen the lively spot turn into a "ghost town."
Salt + Smoke

Salon shears will snip and restaurant kitchen grills will sizzle next week in St. Charles County, but business owners say that even with their doors open they’re unsure when customers will feel safe enough to return.

Wentzville salon owner Toni Peanick said she’s changed her entire business model and cleaning routine in order to reopen Monday. 

That’s the day after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order expires. St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said Tuesday that his county would follow the governor’s plans to reopen the economy. 

Peanick said her salon, the Color Room, used to see close to 1,000 customers a month. Now, she’s trying to figure out how to run her business during a pandemic.

“It’s extremely overwhelming because … you’ve got your business going well, it’s running. And then you get hit with something like this, and everything you thought you know, you don’t know,” Peanick said.

Now, the salon will greet customers outside when they arrive. Stylists will take customers’ temperatures and have them sign a waiver saying they are not sick. Peanick said she’s trying to budget for extra costs associated with the increased precautions.

‘Shifting the burden’

Parson’s plan, which aims to improve testing capacity and boost protective equipment reserves, also eliminates all statewide social gathering limits. It does, however, allow cities and counties to keep stricter limitations in place. 

Ehlmann said he doesn’t believe such restrictions are needed in St. Charles County, in part because it has fewer coronavirus cases than St. Louis and St. Louis County. 

Unlike neighboring St. Louis and Franklin counties, St. Charles never barred certain businesses from remaining open. Ehlmann said he thought that businesses should decide for themselves if they were “essential” enough to continue operating.

Despite that, Ehlmann said around half of the county’s population has stopped going out in public. 

Now, Ehlmann said he wants to continue to leave the decision to reopen businesses to individuals, adding that he doesn’t feel qualified to advise every industry on how to open.

“We’re really shifting the burden to those businesses to convince their customers to say, ‘Hey, it’s safe to come here,’” he said.

Local business owners are now carrying the burden of adapting business models to limit face-to-face interaction. 

Owner of Salt + Smoke, a local barbecue restaurant chain with a location in St. Charles, Tom Schmidt said his restaurant has spent $25,000 on sanitary updates.

Still, Schmidt said Salt + Smoke is not ready to reopen come Monday. 

“If I had a date, then that would mean I would have the answers,” he said. 

Schmidt said he is brainstorming how to improve safety by reducing contact with customers by adapting to counter service or having people order food from their phones. Until then, Salt + Smoke will stick to curbside carryout orders only. 

Ehlmann said he expects customers might be reluctant to return to businesses.

“It’s not like just saying people can leave home is suddenly going to get the economy going,” he said. For that to happen, Ehlmann said, people are going to need to feel safe.

And to get there, he said that the county health department needs to continue contact tracing and quarantining infected individuals and that testing capacity still must expand.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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