Columbus business owners concerned governor’s promise to lift health orders is premature

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Some Columbus businesses say even if the governor lifted all of the state health orders, they wouldn’t necessarily lift their own restrictions.

“The end of the COVID tunnel is close, but we’re not there yet,” said Jason Williams, the owner of toy and collectibles store Big Fun in the Short North.

In spring 2020 Williams kept his shop closed for 70 days, even when the state allowed retail stores to reopen, because several health issues put him and his staff at a high risk for contracting COVID-19. Now Big Fun follows state orders in limiting capacity and requiring face coverings.

Thursday evening, Governor Mike DeWine announced he would lift all health orders if the state recorded 50 cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks.

“I appreciate DeWine’s leadership, I do. I pay attention to all of his statements. But it seems like it’s a little bit too early,” Williams said.

He explained he would likely allow several more customers in the store at a time if restrictions lifted, but would still require masks until enough of the population is vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

“That’s not a lot of the population to suddenly say, ‘Ahh everything’s OK,’” he said.

Perrie Wilcof agreed there doesn’t appear to be a clear path to returning to normal immediately and she doesn’t feel comfortable doing so.

“Somebody said it’s like running a marathon and when we’re near the finish line, they break our kneecaps,” the cafe and bakery owner said. “I think in the end, I think this could end up hurting small businesses.”

Wilcof’s Dough Mama opened a second location in German Village during 2020, but both the new store and her flagship Clintonville bakery are still not allowing customers to dine inside.

“People really aren’t comfortable being fully open and it really puts our staff at risk and a lot of people aren’t able to do that,” she explained.

She said it’s been difficult for small businesses to make enough profit to stay afloat with current health restrictions in place, but she worries about the repercussions of lifting the measures.

“If numbers spike again, which seems like they will, then we’ll have to shut down again and we’ll have to be even more restrictive than before,” she said.

Alternatively, she also worries about losing business to other restaurants that decide to fully reopen.

“It actually makes me more nervous because right now we’re all on a level playing field, pretty much. And that’s going to change,” Wilcof said. “And that’s also going to change based on whether or not our staff is willing to put themselves at risk, which is something you never ever want to ask anyone to do.”

Thursday, Governor DeWine explained Ohio’s case numbers have declined dramatically in the past two months, going from 550 cases per 100,000 to 179 cases per 100,000.

Some health experts say the governor’s benchmark numbers are likely months away and health orders may be lifted in the summer at the earliest.

Wilcof and Williams agreed it was something they will monitor, but plan to prioritize health and safety.

“The number one priority for me, and I don’t know about all business owners, is keeping everyone safe,” Wilcof said.

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