With a plastic bag dangling off her left wrist Friday afternoon, Kim Hackman fumbled through a stack of bills before peeling a few off and handing them over a table full of vegetables to a cashier.
Hackman, of Ephrata, said she’s made similar purchases nearly weekly at the local Green Dragon Farmers Market & Auction, where she buys meats and produce.
But this time it was different, she said. Instead of the crowds of customers that typically swarm the Friday-only market, Hackman was among the few.
‘This is not good for us’
It was only a day after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered that all nonessential businesses should close to curb the spread of the contagious COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus.
The market’s owners, siblings Sally Bushong and Rob and John Rohrbach, said the number of vendors selling Friday was about 80 percent fewer than normal. The decrease in customer traffic may have been even more drastic, they said.
“This is not good for us,” Rob Rohrbach said, pointing out that both the Green Dragon and its vendors would be contending with a loss of revenue.
The owners admitted they were unsure they’d even be allowed to open next week.
Grocers are considered essential and can stay open throughout Wolf’s mandated shutdown. And many of the market’s vendors sell meats, produce and baked goods, but some of them sell goods like purses, toy cars and soaps.
The owners questioned whether just those nonessential vendors would have to cease sales or whether the market, as a whole, would have to close. They said they reached out to the governor’s office for clarification.
In the meantime, they’ve upped their employees’ cleaning frequency, offered latex gloves to customers and vendors, altered hours of operation and implemented a number of other changes, Bushong said.
“A lot of the vendors are confused,” she said.
Frank Mondou of Towson, Maryland, was among the confused. He was at the market selling heating and cooling pads. A mall he sells at already closed and markets were his last opportunity to make a profit, he said.
“This is what I do for a living,” he said, upset about the virus-related closures. “I think it’s blown out of proportion. It’s crazy.”
Customer Nicole Garress of Atglen, Chester County, was equally unworried, pointing out that she drove 45 minutes to visit the market.
“We call it day six of the hostage situation,” she said of government officials’ efforts to keep people indoors and away from crowds. “We're not doing that.”
However, the market’s owners are taking the illness seriously, so much so that they told their 80-year-old parents to stay away so they don't get sick, the siblings said.
‘They are scared’
At another vendor stand, Ben Stoltzfus stood over rows of baked goods, explaining that a continuing lack of customers would eventually lead to financial strain.
“It’s really slow today,” he said.
It was so slow that David Light of Sinking Spring, Berks County, planned to shut down his restaurant-like seafood stand hours earlier than normal.
For now, restaurants are allowed to continue selling takeout, but Light said he fears that will soon come to an end.
“We think it will get worse before it gets better,” he said, adding that he understands the seriousness of the situation. “It’s all anybody is talking about. They are scared.”
Already, the contagious respiratory illness had caused other Green Dragon vendors to close up shop. A sign on one stand read: “Due to the governor’s proclamation … we closed.”
‘Tough spot to be in’
Similar signs hung on the doors of at least a half dozen small businesses in downtown Ephrata.
Inside Liberty Tax Service on Main Street in Ephrata Borough, owner Laura Dombach worked alone. Over the past days a large bottle of hand sanitizer sat on the business’ front counter and Dombach said she'd worked to disinfect desktops and even pens.
After Friday, the building would be closed to the public to abide Wolf’s shutdown, she said, though employees would be able to work remotely with customers able to submit documents online.
“It’s a tough spot to be in as a small business owner,” she said.
Maybe no one understood that more than Hackman, who spoke about her own business after making her produce purchase. At her her salon, Kim’s Klassic Kuts, there is no option to work from home, she said, worried about lost revenue during the shutdown.
“I’ll lose my shop,” she said, with certainty in her voice.