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Owners of small businesses in Georgia: To reopen or stay closed is an agonizing decision

Some business owners and their customers say it’s too soon to reopen safely; others said reopening is fine, with stringent health and safety precautions.

ATLANTA — No government decree allowing businesses to reopen or stay closed can force the business owners to do either, and no government decree can force customers to return to those businesses right away.

The decisions, one way or the other, are deeply personal.

At the corner of Ponce and Highland in northeast Atlanta, a beloved, elegant Atlanta treasure, eight decades old, remains locked tight.  It’s The Plaza Theatre, and the state of Georgia says that as of Monday the Plaza will be allowed to reopen, and show movies again.

But it won’t reopen then.

“This is really where it does come down to a big difference between what we can do and what we should do,” said Owner Chris Escobar on Tuesday.

Escobar said his loyal customers are telling him, and he agrees with them, that it is too soon for moviegoers to gather inside any theater safely.

“I realistically don’t see anyone reopening (theaters) on Monday,” he said. “When it comes to reopening The Plaza, obviously we’re in business to be in business, but we also want to think of the safety of our customers and our staff. And our early indications from all our customers is that they are not in support of us reopening, yet, and people coming into the building and that sort of thing.”

Variety reports that “most movie theaters in Georgia won’t reopen next week” in part because the big chains, which shed their staffs quickly when the lock-down began, can’t hire and train new employees in less than a week; movie studios are not releasing new movies during the pandemic; and the chains are worried about customers getting infected with COVID-19 inside the theaters and suing.

For owners of small businesses, the decision to reopen or stay closed can be agonizing, including for the owners of Crazy Cuttz 313, a barber shop in Peachtree Corners.

Jayln Sizemore and his two co-owners have been talking with each other and with health officials, trying to find the answers they need.

“Would it be safe enough to do so, is it the right thing to do, opening up, to open the doors up?”

Sizemore said they decided they will re-open, but they will not return to "business as usual."

He said there will be masks on everyone, service will be by appointment only, only one customer per chair will be allowed inside at a time, the chairs are at least ten feet apart, people waiting must wait outside in their cars, staff will subject the interior to thorough sanitizing after each customer, and staff will wait at least 10 minutes between customers. 

RELATED: Health officials worry Gov. Kemp reopening Georgia too soon

And that’s only part of what the “new” Crazy Cuttz 313 will be like.

“I don’t think that society’s ever going to go back to what it used to be,” Sizemore said Tuesday. “We just feel that, if this is what it’s going to take, we’re going to take every precaution to make sure that everybody that we tend to is safe…. We’ve got to buckle up and stay clean and stay focused, and just look out for each other.”

As for The Plaza Theatre, which has been closed for weeks, Owner Chris Escobar, who is also Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Society, has been paying all ten of his Plaza employees without interruption. They’ve been selling take-out Plaza movie food and Plaza souvenirs, selling tickets for on-line watch parties, and streaming movies on-line, among other initiatives. Customers have been donating money for the theater in an on-line fundraiser.

And, coming soon-- the first ever Plaza pop-up drive-in, at a location to be announced.

RELATED: These are guidelines salons and spas should follow in order to reopen, Gov. Kemp says

“At The Plaza we’re all about tradition, nostalgia, and things like that,” Escobar said, “and what more classic way is there, what more, sort of, American way is there, to watch movies? When you can’t be in a beautiful movie house, a movie palace, to do it in a drive-in style, I mean, there’s nothing more throw-back than that. People can come and have a good time and still be in the confines of their own vehicles. So, like I say, ‘BYOQ, Bring Your Own Quarantine.;”

Escobar said the theater itself may reopen in the summer, and it will definitely reopen. Just not next week.

In the meantime, “We’re trying everything we can, and all we can do is all we can do.”

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.

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