On Saturday morning in Sandwich, mask-wearing shoppers perused the racks on the sidewalk outside Sundance Clothing in Merchants’ Square.
Owner April Cabral greeted them and pointed out sale items, almost like it was any other day — though it was anything but.
She and other small merchants are chafing under the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, which restricts them to curbside pickup and delivery in Phase 1. They say it’s not fair to treat them differently from general-merchandise stores, which have been allowed to stay open because they carry food and other essential items.
So Cabral decided to interpret “curbside” to include browsing outdoors.
Then, she walked into a Walmart to buy a tent. She said plenty of people were shopping for clothes, pool supplies, or whatever they wanted, and only a few were buying the kinds of items that allow Walmart to stay open.
“So I was kind of doing a rough count as I was walking through the store,” she said. “I took some pictures, and I was like, ‘Why is this OK? I don’t understand how this can be allowed.'”
On May 18, she announced in a live Facebook video that she would start opening Friday through Sunday.
“I’m kind of excited,” she said in the video. “I don’t think I’m going to get arrested, because I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.”
By last Saturday, she was letting customers into the store, and she said she’s heard only positive comments about her reopening.
“Happy to see you open,” a customer said, to which Cabral replied, “Thank you. We’re letting up to three to four people in at a time.”
Cheyanne Proud, a visitor from New York City, said she feels safe as long as stores limit the number of people inside.
“I think I feel OK with it being open, if it’s safe and everyone’s wearing a mask,” she said.
After the clothing store decided to open, other stores in Merchants’ Square followed suit.
Wish Gift Co. was doing business with the doors propped open and customers welcome inside. The owner declined to give an interview.
State rules have allowed neighboring Cafe Chew to open for takeout only. Bob King, who runs the cafe with his husband, said they did a lot of sanitizing before the pandemic, and they’re taking extra precautions now.
“So that customers would see we’re not touching anything with our bare hands,” he said. “The people who touch the money don’t touch the boxes that the food are packed in to go.”
As of Monday, the Sandwich Board of Health had not taken enforcement action against the clothing or gift stores.
Board member Rebecca Lovell Scott said she was aware from Facebook of the gift shop opening, but no one had reported it directly to the board.
Sandwich Chamber of Commerce director Denise Dever said the way the rules affect small businesses doesn’t make sense. As to whether local stores are violating Phase 1 rules, she took a hands-off approach.
“You know, I don’t want to speak to them opening,” she said. “People have to make their own decisions.”
She acknowledged that some did decide to interpret “curbside” differently.
“Some of them did decide that ‘curbside’ meant we could be out on the curb, and we could sell a few things,” she said. “But I did not — I’m not the police, I guess — the business police.”
Dever said staying closed much longer could put local shops out of business.
“Again, It’s frustrating because we're all small businesses, especially in Sandwich, and it really is going to make a difference whether people are going to survive,” she said. “And we’ve got to get them open sooner, rather than later.”
She said all eyes are on Monday, when retail stores could reopen, if Governor Charlie Baker authorizes Phase 2 to begin.