Businesses beginning to re-open

  • “Open” signs are appearing in business windows throughout Fannin County and the Copper Basin area.
    “Open” signs are appearing in business windows throughout Fannin County and the Copper Basin area.
  • Mark Dlugokinski, DDS of Blue Ridge Dental shows off one of his HEPA air filters which is used to purify the air by capturing floating particles.
    Mark Dlugokinski, DDS of Blue Ridge Dental shows off one of his HEPA air filters which is used to purify the air by capturing floating particles.
  • Habitat for Humanity of Fannin & Gilmer Counties’ ReStore opened back up Monday, May 11. Shown are, from left, Jeanette Mctaggart, Bryan Suydam and Patsy Reed.
    Habitat for Humanity of Fannin & Gilmer Counties’ ReStore opened back up Monday, May 11. Shown are, from left, Jeanette Mctaggart, Bryan Suydam and Patsy Reed.
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Phase I of Governor Brian Kemp’s re-opening plan is underway and many local businesses are taking advantage of the lost time.

Around 20% of restaurants in Fannin County are open, according to Jan Hackett, Fannin County Chamber of Commerce. 

“As far as shops go, in Blue Ridge downtown, we think that about 90% of the shops are open at least part of the week and weekend. In McCaysville, 50%,” she said during a Tuesday, May 12 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Tim Richter, owner of Toccoa Riverside Restaurant, said the restaurant has been very busy since their re-opening.

Although, they are only seeing about 40% of what they are accustomed to during this time of year.

“We moved our hostess stand outside ... we opened up a downstairs to-go window, serving nachos and flatbreads out on the river with outside tables,” Richter said.

They have also implemented disposable, paper menus.

“Because product is so hard to get right now that that’s actually a blessing because that way we can change the menu up based on what we get,” Richter said.

An influx of customers, on top of heavy requirements by the state, have resulted in other measures.

Pagers are being sent with customers to wait inside their vehicles until orders or seating is available. This is to ensure social distancing.

“It’s hopeful. There’s signs, if you plan it right, and you stay on top of it, you can do the distancing thing properly. It’s challenging, but, you know, it’s what I do for a living,” Richter said. “I know the employees are glad to be back to work.”

Although essential, dental offices were restricted to only seeing patients in the event of an emergency until they were given the okay from the state, American Dental Association and the Georgia Dental Association.

While dentists offices are used to being cautious due to working closely in the mouths of patients, Blue Ridge Dental has implemented some extra equipment and procedures to ensure safety for themselves and their patients.

“Blue Ridge Dental wishes to exceed the standard infection control protocols,” said Mark Dlugokinski, DDS.

To do this, the practice has implemented HEPA air filters, which are able to trap the vast majority of particles in the air. The filters purify the air 10 times per hour.

Additionally, they have high-volume evacuation supplies for teeth cleanings, ultraviolet light sterilizer cabinets to sterilize equipment as well as items patients bring in like masks and cell phones, laser thermometers for screening employees and patients, touchless payment processing, essential oil diffusers, which are known to have a bactericidal effect on bacteria and viruses, and the office has isolated the front desk from the reception area by covering the windows with clear shower curtains.

Dlugokinski and staff are even rinsing patient’s mouths with hydrogen peroxide before, during and after treatment.

“The bottom line is that I want to, number one, let my patients and community know that our dental office is open again, and, number two, that we are implementing measures above the minimal requirements to ensure everyone’s safety, and, I guess, number three, that our local dental community stands united to ensure the safety of our community,” Dlugokinski said.

Banks are also beginning to re-open.

Mountain Valley Community Bank re-opened their lobby to the public Monday, May 11; however, United Community Bank’s (UCB) lobby still remains closed, and plans to re-open are still up-in-the-air, according to Jennifer Dalrymple, UCB representative.

 Vacation rentals are also up and running but, like other businesses, are seeing an increase in guests but are not quite up to typical booking volumes.

As of Wednesday, May 13 cabins for Memorial Day were partially booked, June and July were about 25% booked and bookings for fall were “slim,” according to Blue Ridge Lodging Association president Paul Gribble.

“Our guests, at this time, are generally in smaller groups, mostly two to six people in their party,” Gribble said. “We have less notification of guests arrival and smaller amounts of guests than usual, and this means that the average daily rates are lower, as the larger homes are not being occupied as much as usual. This will hurt the amount of local taxes collected, but the improvement of the tax collections will be much welcome revenue to the Chamber of Commerce and the county.”

Hotel/Motel tax is down $60,000 in collections for April based on March business, which is a $30,000 loss for both the county and the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, according to Hackett.

A loss of $100,000 is expected for May.

Gribble went on to say that the majority of guests are Georgia residents and many are bringing their own supplies and staying inside or around the cabin.

“The professional managers in the lodging industry in Fannin County have really done a wonderful job in communicating with guests, following state and local guidelines, and have really ramped up cleaning to help ensure safe stays to guests and also to the staff and employees of the professional managers,” he said.

“We know that the area and most people are looking forward to getting things back to normal, but from the lodging industry we feel that this may take a while, perhaps years.”

As for local shops, Pam Abbott of River Laurel Gifts & Boutiques said they have had a “good start” since re-opening.

Abbott’s shop was barely opened when the closures began, but she said the future appears bright.

“People are anxious to get out. A lot of people, with being under quarantine, they’re saying they’re just anxious to get out, so maybe a Thursday last year might not have been as strong as Thursday this time because people are getting out,” Abbott said.

To combat the virus, she has implemented a hand sanitizing station upon entry and ensures visitors are keeping a proper social distance.

“In my opinion, I think the summer is going to be strong because people are going to be afraid to fly. I think they’re going to drive to locations ... I’m actually kind of excited to see how this is going to go,” Abbott said.