COVINGTON, Ind. – Business owners across the state line in Indiana can breathe a sigh of relief and take a break now that Illinois has started allowing restaurants, retail stores and salons to open up in various capacities.
Up until yesterday when the state entered Phase 3 of its reopening plan, Illinois had the most restrictions for the longest duration compared with its neighbors Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri.
On May 11, when Indiana started allowing restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity and salons to offer personal services while wearing face masks and limiting the number of clients at one time, Illinoisans desperate for a haircut or a sit-down meal at a restaurant were crossing the border in droves.
“We’re having a lot of people from Illinois come here,” Covington Mayor Brad Crain said. “They’re more than welcome here.”
Councilman Todd Hegg said he also has seen more activity around Covington lately.
“I’ve noticed a lot of people walking around the square and a lot of Illinois plates,” he said.
Although Crain was uncertain what economic impact, if any, Indiana’s reopening nearly three weeks ago has had on Covington businesses, he said, “We’re glad our governor let us open up.”
Earlier in the week, available parking spaces still were scarce around Covington’s square as people shopped at the stores, showed up for hair appointments at salons and grabbed a coffee or cold drink at Juli’s Java. About one in five parked cars sported an Illinois license plate.
“We’ve had a lot of Illinois people,” Reese Bodine, a barista at Juli’s Java, said. “People just say they’re from Illinois, and it’s such a small town, I feel like I know everyone.”
“We didn’t announce we were opening,” fellow barista Courtney Root said. “But we’ll get a line in here — Illinois people and the regulars.”
Some salons couldn’t keep up with the flood of phone calls coming in so they instead recorded an answering machine message that stated current clients were being accommodated first and new clients weren’t being accepted at this time.
The Wild Ivory salon in Covington did answer their phone, but had to break the news to new clients that there still was a two- to two-and-a-half week backlog of canceled appointments with existing clients that the stylists had to take care of first.
“We were having phone calls constantly from people in Illinois wanting a haircut,” stylist Lois Bechtold said.
Now that Illinois is starting to reopen, employees at Indiana businesses who have nearly three weeks of experience with the reopening process and the accompanying social distancing restrictions agreed the best advice they could give would be to tell customers to have patience with the employees at the Illinois businesses.
“When the dining room at the Beef House reopened, there was a line out the door,” said Bodine, who works at both the Beef House and Juli’s Java.
“The customers need to be patient,” she said. “Employees are used to doing carryout and now doing dine-in is different.
“Every time there’s a customer, we have to wash everything down,” Bodine said.
Root agreed. “We have a sanitizer cleaner we use, and we have to wait two minutes for it to dry and then wipe it up.”
Root, however, said she doesn’t mind the disinfectant requirements.
“I feel like some of this we should have been doing before (COVID-19),” she said.
At The Wild Ivory, clients are seen by appointment only.
“They must remain in their vehicle because we have to take one client at a time with no more than 10 people in the shop at the same time,” Bechtold said. “We’re doing the maximum with five stylists and one person per stylist.
“We’re wearing masks and the clients are, too,” she added. “We’re following the guidelines.”
Bodine said she believes maintaining social distancing is the most difficult part of everyone’s “new normal.”
“When you see someone you know, you want to hug them but you can’t,” she lamented.