ACA.daycares.003.040420

Children play on the playground at Kids Only II daycare Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Lafayette, La.

Watching other businesses partially reopening in recent weeks has been frustrating for tattoo studio owner Tai Henderson, who finally gets his turn beginning Friday after being closed since mid-March.

His frustration is with seeing other businesses operate in recent weeks that he said use less personal protective equipment than a typical tattoo artist.

"We're constantly changing gloves, masks and spraying everything down. We clean more often than some doctors and dentists offices," said Henderson, owner of The Code Fine Arts Gallery.

The small-business owner has been relying on savings during the state-imposed shutdown effort to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. He didn't qualify for unemployment and wasn't able to get any federal or state loans.

"A lot of us (tattoo artists) depend on clients to pay our bills," he said.

Businesses like restaurants, retailers and casinos have been operating at 25% occupancy since May 15 and get to go to 50% starting Friday. Bars that don’t serve food will be allowed to open for the first time since March under a stricter 25% capacity. Tattoo parlors, spas, massage establishments and bowling alleys also are in the Phase 2 group being allowed to reopen with restrictions on Friday. The next possible loosening of restrictions is June 26.

Some businesses can't make a profit at 50% of normal capacity, said Dawn Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business chapters in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Small businesses are really just hanging on. They want no additional restrictions. Even these new protocols are still a strain," Starns said. "They are frustrated and are ready to get reopened. We applauded this (public health) approach in the beginning, but now it's going to put our economy on the brink of collapse," she said.

"Our biggest concern is that if you have social distancing requirements and capacity limits, they are going to bump up against each other at some point. We're hoping for flexibility on how that will play out," Starns said. 

Fifty percent capacity limits aren't a particular concern for Henderson's tattoo shop, which doesn't have more than 10 individuals at a time anyway. He's been taking appointments for Friday and has a wait-list. The business has been ordering extra masks for clients to prepare for reopening. 

There is still concern in some industries like massage therapy, which often means skin-on-skin contact. 

Faith Miller, owner of the Massage Emporium in downtown Baton Rouge, has "mixed emotions" about heading into Phase 2, even though the spa has been preparing for weeks with deep cleaning and training staff.

"We've got a million new policies and protocols," Miller said. "We're excited but it's going to be slow and controlled."

But she's still waiting on thousands of dollars of new equipment, like air purifiers and face shields meant to protect both the massage therapists and clients on the table. The spa expects to schedule members first and likely will operate below the 50% allowed capacity at first and not offer walk-in services. 

The majority of its massage therapists are returning to work at the spa, though some are concerned about how close they get to clients. 

"This is kind of like nursing in a way; you are up close and personal with hands on peoples' backs," she said. "It's just about rethinking about how to do everything, even changing the sheets."

The spa expects to check the temperature of employees and customers at the door. The plan is to ramp up corporate massage chair events in the meantime, which are massages through clothes when clients are face down.

During the closure, the spa secured funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which enabled it to stay afloat during the shut down. Many members kept paying dues for future services, which was also critical, she said. 

"Summer is usually the slow season. We'll see how it goes. There's so many unknowns," she said. 

All Star Lanes in Baton Rouge expects to offer more concierge bowling services when it reopens on Friday. Employees will help customers find a bowling ball that fits before beginning a game and servers are delivering food. 

The bowling alley with 64 lanes expects to skip a lane between customers so it can stay under the 50% capacity requirement. During the shutdown, staff have been training and deep cleaning the facility. 

"I have gel sanitizer, spray sanitizer and masks for every employee with the All Star logo; we are ready to go," said Mike LaCroix, general manager of All Star Lanes. 

Still, it's going to be financially difficult because March and April are typically the busiest months for bowling. At least the vast majority of its employees have returned to work, he said. The bowling alley is scaling back hours for a few weeks, but expects to open at 9 a.m. on Friday. 

"But I don't think that we can predict the next 12 weeks," he said. 

Day care centers have been in a difficult position as many workers lost their jobs and began watching children at home.

The Southside Child Development Center is prepared to increase capacity and even hire more workers to meet an influx of demand as employees return to their offices.

"During the beginning of the pandemic it was pretty quiet, but now there's an influx of children coming back," said Elizabeth Andry, co-owner of the Southside Child Development Center. "A lot of peoples' childcare centers closed during the pandemic."

The daycare center has been following state guidelines, which decreased the employee to child ratio in about half, but is expected to increase once again with final guidelines that have not yet been released.

"We have limited enrollment based on these restrictions, but we were prepared and have separate play yards for our classrooms," she said. "I'm happy that the government is slowly reopening. We're the backbone of the workforce. Without childcare centers the workforce is at a bit of a standstill."


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.