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Local Businesses Coming Back, Await Customers

Cars sit parked outside storefronts at Centre Market in Wheeling on Friday.

Editor’s note: Much of the nation has been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the economy is reopening, and businesses are ramping up for what they hope will be a busy summer season. To help mark the reopening and tell the positive, meaningful stories of how we’re all rebuilding, today we’re launching the first part of an ongoing weekly series titled “Reopening.” Each week we’ll delve into a different aspect of the reopening, how local businesses are dealing with it and the positive impact it’s having on our communities.

WHEELING — There’s an air of optimism and hope in the Friendly City, as many local storefronts closed for weeks due to the coronavirus crisis are starting to reopen and come to life.

Business owners are working to recover what they’ve lost over the past few months by letting customers still at home know they’re open.

Wendy Anderson, director of the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses that found ways to distinguish themselves during the coronavirus likely will emerge with a new customer base that didn’t know they existed before.

“People are coming back to shopping,” she said. “What sustained many of them through this crisis was that the ones who did online selling of wares were the ones who captured a new audience — and found customers who didn’t know they were there before. This has positioned them to be stronger. …

“Businesses that stay relevant are the ones who go outside the box.”

She spoke of work the chamber did with Re-Decorate Consignment in Moundsville.

“We did a virtual open house for Re-Decorate Consignment,” Anderson said. “People could look inside at what was in the store without going in.

“They are now going there and enjoying what she has. In business, you have to be flexible.”

Many may not have been familiar with the Around the World Gourmet shop in Bellaire. But during the past two months, the shop began offering on-line family-style Italian and Indian meals to the public.

“This opened the business up to a world that didn’t know it existed in Bellaire,” Anderson said.

The Marshall County Co-Op also began to offer landscaping planning and service, and is assisting customers with whatever questions they have about their gardens at home.

“They businesses all did something to set them apart, and it has been successful for them,” Anderson said.

The St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce, itself, is flexible in how it operates, as many of its members aren’t located in St. Clairsville — or even in Ohio, Anderson explained.

The chamber approaches businesses from Powhatan Point to Wintersville, and also has members in Wheeling and Moundsville. It has about 500 members, and has picked up 14 new members since March, according to Anderson.

Most businesses also have reopened at The Highlands in Ohio County. Ohio County Commission President Tim McCormick said the county is hoping to have all businesses not yet open at The Highlands ready in the next two weeks.

“One of the reasons stores aren’t opening is they are having a problem getting their inventory delivered,” he said. “A truck going to T.J. Maxx or JC Penney may have two or three states to go to, and some states aren’t as open as we are at this point. Inventory is a problem.”

They also are trying to get employees back, according to McCormick.

“Their employees are on unemployment and they are probably doing well on unemployment and they are not ready to go back to work yet,” he said.

“We’re hoping in the next week everything should be fully functional.”

The exception could be the Marquee Cinemas at The Highlands. Hollywood has stopped production and presently doesn’t have new movies to release, McCormick said.

“They can’t show old movies because that won’t bring folks in,” he said.

The businesses that are open are doing OK, he said.

“It’s not normal, but things are getting back to normal,” McCormick said. “People are waiting to get into Hobby Lobby, and the restaurants, too. That’s a good thing. We’re just trying to get back to normal as soon as we can.”

Commissioner Randy Wharton, also president of the County Development Authority, said Friday he was awaiting an update on the status of commerce at The Highlands.

Last week, the county announced sales tax revenue overall will be down about $1.5 million this fiscal year as a result of the closure of businesses at The Highlands due to the coronavirus.

But county officials also expect to make up that loss in the second half of this calendar year as Menards and a host of other tenants are expected to open at the development.

In addition to Menards, a DiCarlos Pizza store and Fore Seasons Golf and Bar are set to open there soon.

Most businesses also are open at the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville. But customers not wanting to venture out can take advantage of “Mall To Go” from select retailers.

Joe Bell, spokesman for mall parent the Cafaro Co., explained customers who are concerned with coming into the shopping space now may call participating merchants there and place an order for pick-up.

About 20 parking spots have been set aside for “Mall To Go” he said. Some of these are outside the mall’s main entrance at the front of the mall, while others are behind the building , near the front office.

“The customer, after they arrive, sets their hazard flashers on, and calls the store to let them know they are there. They then send an employee out to the car with the merchandise.”

Businesses participating include Garfields, American Eagle Outfitters and Buckle. He expects more to sign on in the coming week.

“At first, we had a great surge of business when the mall opened,” Bell said. “There was a lot of pent-up demand, and a lot of people anxious to shop. That has tapered off, and continues to be steady.

“It is coming back. We are quite healthy right now, but we’re asking people to be patient. Business is not what it was, but we’re coming back.”

Candi Noble-Greathouse, marketing director for the mall, said the mall is looking for a vendor wanting to sell personal protective equipment masks at the mall.

“We’re looking for vendors of PPE merchandise,” she said. “This could be someone that has made masks and is looking to sell them in the mall. We feel that is something shoppers are looking for.”

Kurt Zende, manager of Centre Market in Wheeling, said the number of businesses opening up there is “more and more each day.”

“By (today), everything should be open,” he said.

But Zende admitted business traffic there isn’t what it should be.

“Some days customers are few and far between, but 80 percent of the businesses are doing OK,” he said. “We’re not yet back to levels in the past, but we’re getting there.

“Once everybody starts coming out, we’ll be fine. Everything should be back to normal in June.”

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