Some Businesses Take A Cautious Approach As 24 Pa. Counties Partially Reopen Friday

May 7, 2020

Tommy Songer, an owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in the State College area, said he and about 20 agents he employs are getting back to work Friday to meet what he called a “pent up demand.”

“Most of them have clients that either want to see a home because they're working with buyers or they have listings that have been waiting for buyers to be able to see the homes,” Songer said. 

On Friday, 24 counties in northwest and northcentral Pennsylvania will partially reopen, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced last week. These counties are moving to the state’s intermediary “yellow” phase, where some shutdown restrictions can be lifted.

Like other businesses that are allowed to reopen, Songer and his agents will wear masks and practice social distancing, like only having the realtor and one buyer at a property during showings. 

Songer said the uncertainty the coronavirus has brought hurts the housing market and it’s important for buyers and sellers to feel confident moving forward, which is why he feels safety protocols need to be taken just as seriously in the yellow phase.

“If we backslide and more people get sick, that's tragic in and of itself that more people get sick that didn’t really have to,” Songer said. “But more importantly, they could be shooting themselves in the foot by putting themselves back out of work and putting the economy back on its heels again. And I don't think anybody wants to see that.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has previously warned that a potential spike in COVID-19 cases in counties moving to the yellow phase could put them back to the red category. 

But for some businesses, Friday’s reopening doesn’t change how they’ve been operating since the state went into shutdown in March.

Lindsey Zucal, the owner of Aroma Cafe in Emporium, said her restaurant will continue offering take-out, but until the area goes to the “green” phase, she can’t open up her cafe or rehire staff. And she’s seen price increases on some supplies that she doesn’t expect to come down right away.

“I’m not holding my breath for anything,” Zucal said. “Just kind of playing it out and waiting.”

Many businesses are also taking the reopening process slowly and cautiously, said Tina Solak, executive director of the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center. Some local retail stores have moved to listing their goods online and providing pickup or delivery, and some businesses belong to supply chains that remain disrupted. 

“We've been blessed,” Solak said. “We've had two cases in the entire county. One was just diagnosed last week and I think because we went so long with just one case and now we have a second, I think that might have some effect on some of these businesses that are saying, ‘Hm, let's just take this a little slow.’”