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Cape Businesses Prepare To Close Doors Under State Order

Eve Zuckoff
A local business owner put out toilet paper for sale as a joke on March 16.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered the closure of all non-essential brick and mortar businesses in the state to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on Monday.

The closure order goes into effect on Tuesday, March 24, at noon and is effective until April 7 at noon.

This move comes just as the number of confirmed cases in the state reached 777, up from 646 the day before. Nine people have died from the virus in Massachusetts.

LeRoux Kitchen, which sells baking and cookware, is among those shutting its doors at all five locations.  

Sarah Welsh, a sales associate in Falmouth, said the last day in the shop felt “surreal.”

“So I’m looking at, like, are there things I should wrap up? Am I leaving things here?” she said. “It’s very, very strange to have it so quiet. But it has been for a few days. It’s been pretty slow.”

Scott Ghelfi, the owner of Ghelfi’s Candies in Falmouth, said March isn’t typically a busy month for his sweet shop, but the prospect of being closed down for the months ahead is daunting.

“I have Easter around the corner,” he said. “That’s a big, big holiday for us. And if I lose that, or a big chunk of that, that’s going to hurt. So that’s scary.”

Ghelfi said he still plans to deliver the most popular candies like peanut butter cups, sea-salt caramels, and fudge, at no fee, to customers.

Down the street, Mike Baroni, the owner of Capeway Cleaners, said their dry-cleaning and laundry business can continue to operate because they do things like clean, wash and dry uniforms for first responders.

Other businesses considered “essential” include grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, and gas stations. Auto repair shops, hardware stores, liquor stores, and pet supply shops can also continue to operate. Restaurants can continue to provide delivery or take-out service.

But, according to a press release, even “non-essential” businesses and services are “encouraged" to continue operations in ways that don't "require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises.”

While his stores remain open, Baroni says, his small, family-owned business has already taken a hit.  

“It’s not like a recession or even when 9/11 happened, where there was a big drop in business,” he said. “The previous week was totally normal—sales for March—and then immediately over the weekend it dropped 40-50 percent.”

At this point, Baroni says, he’s hoping the drop in sales won’t last into May, the start of their busy season. That would further risk Capeway Cleaners’ ability to retain its 30 employees.

“What we had to decide real fast is ‘Do we give everyone limited hours?’ And what we decided to do, what was best for all associates, was to furlough nine to ten associates so they can collect unemployment right away,” he said.  

Those who will work, he says, are using ozone-technology that kills viruses and bacteria in clothes and they’re taking extra precautions to stay safe.

Sarah Welsh said she’ll be in the LeRoux Kitchen until the end of the day on Monday as people trickle in to pick up last minute baking supplies. After that shift, she said, she’ll file for unemployment, joining tens of thousands of others.

On Monday, March 16, the state announced 19,884 unemployment claims were filed in a single day, more than four times the amount for the entire first week of March.

“I mean, there’s not much we can do except try to hang on,” Welsh said.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.