Retailer tells congressman NRF’s Operation Open Doors has helped ‘distill the important things’ on safely reopening stores

A roadmap for safely reopening retail

Operation Open Doors, led by NRF and Seyfarth LLP, provides guidance and tools that NRF members can use as they navigate reopening stores. Learn more and view resources.

As owner Patti Riordan took Representative Steve Stivers on a virtual tour of the Smoke Stack Hobby Shop in Lancaster, Ohio, this week, she told the congressman that NRF’s Operation Open Doors played a key role in reopening the store after a two-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I credit them with giving us a lot of information,” Riordan said. “In a bigger business you have so many resources but in a small business like this you don’t. You really have to rely on organizations to distill the important things, so you can decide what you need to do for your business.”

“These folks have really helped to give us advice on how to open the store back up and prepare for that,” she said, also thanking the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. NRF’s 10-page Operation Open Doors checklist of issues retailers should address when reopening — from appointing a “return-to-work” team to how to sanitize cash registers and restrooms — is so important “I carry it with me everywhere.”

NRF has arranged in-person store tours for years to help retailers show members of Congress how their businesses operate and explain how they are affected by legislation passed in Washington. But Wednesday’s event, conducted over Zoom with a mosaic of faces on the screen, was NRF’s first virtual tour.

“The pandemic has forced every business model to reimagine themselves,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French told Stivers. “Virtual store tours are the way our retailers are becoming engaged with policymakers.”

Riordan, who was joined by her husband and store co-owner Don Riordan, picked up her iPad to walk Stivers through the 40-year-old store they have owned for seven years, showing shelves filled with model car kits and model rockets, model planes and helicopters hanging from the ceiling, two model train layouts and an in-store race course for radio-controlled model cars. As recommended under the Operation Open Doors initiative, Plexiglas shields provided protection at cash registers, floor markings helped space out customers for social distancing and employees wore face masks; disposable masks were available for customers who hadn’t brought their own.

Model train club meetings and RC car competitions that previously drew dozens of customers at a time have been suspended in the name of social distancing, and the number of customers allowed in the store will be limited as business builds back up. Customers are allowed to quickly pop in and out to pick up pre-ordered merchandise but are asked to wear masks if they stay to shop.

Riordan said a Paycheck Protection Program loan helped keep the store’s four employees on the payroll as they sold a reduced amount of merchandise online, over the phone and through social media during the shutdown, and installed safety measures in preparation for reopening. But she said the eight-week limit set by Congress for spending the funds would be an impediment for many businesses because “that clock has started ticking and the need is going to stretch out far longer than eight weeks for some.”

“Thanks for keeping your employees on during this pandemic — that really shows the commitment that a lot of our small businesses have to their employees like a family,” Stivers, R-Ohio, said. “I really do appreciate your commitment to them. That’s what the PPP program was all about, encouraging businesses to keep their employees on payroll and give them a way to do that.”

Stivers joined the call from Washington, where the House voted on Thursday to pass legislation that would give businesses 24 weeks to use the PPP money and reduce the amount that must be spent on payroll from 75 percent to 60 percent. The bill, which he supported, would allow the rest to be spent on other costs of keeping businesses in operation. A similar bill pending in the Senate would give businesses 16 weeks to spend the money and allow it to be used on personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves.

Stimulus checks mailed out under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act have helped the store get back on its feet.

“We sell fun and people want some fun right now,” Riordan said. “They’re telling us they’re bringing some of their stimulus money in to buy some fun and support their local businesses.”

Riordan also told Stivers the U.S. Postal Service played an important role during the shutdown, allowing the store to ship online orders at better rates than competing private carrier services. Stivers said he supports efforts to maintain USPS services and address funding issues that threaten to “put the post office out of business.”

Stivers, who said the virtual tour was his first, promised to visit in person the next time he’s in Lancaster. And Don Riordan offered a promise in return: “We’ll let you play with the trains.”

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