At the beginning of the pandemic, businesses across Athens shut their doors as people sheltered in place, and some of them decided to close indoor spaces indefinitely. Avid Bookshop, Pulaski Heights BBQ and The Globe are keeping their doors shut for various reasons, but all of them agree it’s simply not safe enough yet to open indoors.
Open from a distance
Independent bookseller Avid Bookshop chose to remain closed, unlike other bookstores and retail shops, such as Barnes & Noble and Walls of Books, which are open at a limited capacity.
Rachel Watkins, Avid’s director of operations and events, said she realizes Avid is in the minority with its choice to keep the sales floor closed, but her primary concern is keeping her staff safe.
“We have many other bookseller friends who are open, and we’ve watched 90% of everybody adhere to the rules,” Watkins said. “But we don’t want to be put in the position to ask somebody to leave because they don’t have a mask, and the truth is our community has done a great job of being flexible with us and ordering over the phone and ordering on the web.”
The bookstore has a relatively small square footage, and if they allowed customers inside, social distancing would be difficult for both customers and staff, Watkins said. Employees wouldn’t have enough space to serve in-person customers and fulfill the high volume of online and phone orders.
Sticking with takeout
Next to a historic railroad, Pulaski Heights BBQ keeps its restaurant open by only fulfilling takeout orders. Despite restaurants being among the first types of businesses allowed to reopen in Georgia, the Pulaski Heights BBQ dining room remains closed.
Chuck Ramsey, owner of Pulaski Heights BBQ, said his restaurant has a good operation going to keep its employees safe while still keeping the business alive. Its takeout order model has fewer employees working at a time to minimize risks, Ramsey said.
Gov. Brian Kemp allowed restaurants to begin reopening at a limited capacity last April. Then in June, Georgia restaurants no longer had a limit on the amount of people allowed inside as long there were at least 6 feet of distance between each table.
Despite the relaxation of restrictions, Ramsey said he’s not yet comfortable opening indoor seating. He also chooses not to add more outdoor seating options because doing so would not allow for social distancing, he said.
“As far as allowing indoor dining goes, we don’t personally feel that it’s quite time yet,” Ramsey said. “I’m very happy with the way the case numbers are trending down, but I want to see more shots in arms first before we start interacting with the general public.”
Downtown, The Globe, a European-inspired pub, is an Athens staple that has operated for over 30 years. As other restaurants around town opened for takeout, curbside pickup or dine-in, The Globe chose not to and remains closed over a year later.
Norman Scholz, general manager and co-owner of The Globe, said they’ve chosen to remain closed for safety, the finances and to maintain the spirit of the pub.
“A lot of what The Globe is about — people coming in, sitting down inside, having a leisurely time, eating, drinking, seeing friends and being in this big room — that’s obviously not where anybody wants to be right now,” Scholz said. “And definitely not where people wanted to be nine months ago.”
Scholz said The Globe cannot operate below its usual sales, and if they want to sustain the business, it is more financially feasibile for the pub to remain temporarily closed.
“We want to be a place that anybody can afford to come to, and that doesn’t leave a lot of margin on our end to operate below our normal sales,” Scholz said.
With The Globe temporarily closed, Pulaski Heights BBQ only serving takeout and Avid’s sales floor closed to the public, the lingering question is: When will these businesses reopen and resume their normal operations?
“I will say that, eventually, we are going to reopen to the browsing public,” Watkins said. “We’re looking at this as an exciting time where we can reinvent how the reopening is going to look.”
Watkins couldn’t say definitively whether Avid will open this summer, as Avid wants vaccine distribution to be more widespread before starting to plan a reopening date.
Likewise, Ramsey said he hasn’t set a date for reopening his dining room. He said he is going to follow the safest public health guidance at any given time.
Scholz said The Globe has tentative plans to start bringing staff in around June or July to start preparing to reopen by the first or second week of August.
“At this point, we’re basically reopening a new business,” Scholz said. “And we’ll get everything cleaned up, set up, brightened up ready for business and then open for the fall semester.”