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WA Retail Association: Businesses desperate for answers on reopening

Artwork painted on plywood covering a business closed during the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Phase 1 in Washington’s reopening began Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean all of the businesses allowed to resume operations — auto dealers, car washes, pet walking, landscaping, and retailers in the form of curbside pickup — are allowed to open their doors again right now.

The state’s plan for reopening includes four phases, each at least three weeks long, which will gradually allow more businesses to open with greater capacity. The Phase 1 businesses are currently waiting on specific directions from the state government for safety precautions they should be taking.

“Businesses listed in each phase of the plan will have industry-specific guidance and safety criteria developed to ensure workplace safety and public health are maintained,” Mike Faulk, deputy director of communications for the governor’s office, said in an email Tuesday. “Those business activities are not authorized to open until the industry-specific guidance and safety criteria are issued. We hope to begin issuing guidance for Phase 1 businesses as soon as possible this week.”

However, Governor Inslee stated at Tuesday’s press conference that those instructions may not come out until early next week.

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The Washington Retail Association (WRA) said the lack of concrete details does not help many retailers, especially mom-and-pop business owners, as they try to navigate a stressful situation and stay afloat with closed doors.

“Many businesses are frustrated, and they’ve been in lock down for a good 45 days,” said Renée Sunde, president and CEO of the WRA.

During his announcement of the phased reopening on Friday, Inslee said Phase 1 would be fully implemented by May 15. It was not clear, however, which businesses might have to wait until May 15 to reopen, and which could potentially get going sooner.

“[Business owners] are wanting to know if they’re required to wait the two weeks before they’re allowed to operate with curbside, or if that information is going to be more quickly available,” Sunde said.

And while the stay-at-home order is currently set to lift on June 1, that doesn’t mean that Phase 2, which includes the reopening of restaurant dining rooms at limited capacity, barbershops and salons, and in-store retail, will necessarily begin that day.

State Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman said in a press briefing Monday that the state is tentatively planning for Phase 2 to begin June 1, but Inslee said at Friday’s press conference that Phase 2 could begin “later into June,” depending on the COVID data.

Sunde believes the state government could have handled the Phase 1 implementation better.

“I would love to have seen a little bit of preliminary planning before the opening phase actually started,” she said. “And I think there was an opportunity to do that.”

Despite the frustrations, Sunde said the staff from the governor’s office and Department of Commerce have been very responsive and helpful on the phone.

The WRA would rather see one standard of safety and health precautions for all businesses, rather than certain businesses allowed to open while others stay closed. If a retailer can follow those specific regulations, Sunde said, he or she should be allowed to conduct business in person again.

“What we want to see is kind of a level playing field between essential and non-essential, … allow the consumer to make their decisions as to whether or not they feel safe as a shopper,” she said.

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