Retailers disappointed in phase one of state’s reopening plan

BOSTON — Many Massachusetts retailers taking steps to reopen their shops safely amid the coronavirus pandemic are disappointed in the state’s first phase of reopening the economy.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday retail businesses can begin curbside pick-up and delivery, as well as online and phone orders, on May 25. But in-store shopping cannot begin until Phase 2, which has not yet been scheduled.

"We're confused, and we're very disappointed," Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, told Boston 25 News shortly after Baker's new conference. "Curbside is important, but curbside is something that we've had from day one for our restaurant members. It's something that New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire have had all along for retail."

Hurst said where haircuts are included, with restrictions, in the first phase of reopening the economy, retail should be able to operate at least on a by-appointment-only basis.

"At every step here in Mass., retail has been about two steps behind other states in our region. And that, for our small businesses, is extremely frustrating," Hurst said. "Why can't a jeweler take an appointment for a young couple to pick out wedding rings? Just two people with one salesperson."

Debbie Deeb, owner of DesCar Jewelers in Waltham, has been planning her store's safe reopening. She, too, was disappointed to learn customers will not be able to shop inside her store for weeks.

"I was dumbfounded, absolutely dumbfounded. I heard the dates, and I said, 'Curbside on the 25th? This is absurd. Our customers are wanting to come in now,'" Deeb said. "I truly feel the governor isn't giving a lot of small businesses the credit due that we are able to keep our customers safe and ourselves."

As she eagerly awaited the governor's decision, Deeb had Plexiglass dividers installed in the store.

"We've got our Plexiglass all set up," Deeb said. "There is no contact. It surrounds you on each side, it surrounds us. It protects us, it protects the customer. We'll still be wearing masks."

Deeb feels small family-owned businesses like hers are unfairly suffering when big-box stores that are open to sell food and other essential items can also sell jewelry and various retail.

"You can walk into a large business and buy a piece of jewelry, but you can't walk into a ma-and-pa store and buy a piece of jewelry," Deeb said. "You're not going to be talking about the same quality. But you can walk into BJ's, you can go to Walmart, you can go to Target."

While Deeb will be offering curbside pick-up, that option does not provide enough business for a jeweler. Customers have been calling to make appointments as each special occasion passes by, Deeb said.

“Don’t tell me I’m not essential. We’re essential to our families, we’re essential to our customers. We have commitments as well,” Deeb said. “We’re very well set up to resume business. You cannot just blanket say, ‘You cannot open and do business.’ You can’t deprive us of making a living.”

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