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Business owners make choices on reopening

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Submitted Photo Devorah Jeane says she is eager to reopen her hair salon, but she will comply with state orders.

Roswell business owners are weighing many factors in determining how they will survive during the coronavirus emergency.

Several Roswell businesses already have gone out of business, at least temporarily. There are more than 500 businesses in the city, but this highlights how two small business owners — Devorah Jeane of Roswell Hair Guru and DeAnna Price of DeAnna’s Cubby — have made different decisions as they balance financial needs, state orders and the future of their businesses.

Emerging business slowed

Devorah Jeane moved to Roswell in December 2018 from the Los Angeles area. She opened a hair salon, Roswell Hair Guru, in her house on the south side of the city in June 2019.

Until the coronavirus crisis, she also traveled to and from Los Angeles every six weeks or so to work with some of her clients there.

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Her local business began picking up in November, she said, with clients doubling every month until March.

She relies on her business for her income, she said. She just started receiving unemployment benefits, but has not received a business loan, although she applied in March.

But she isn’t going to reopen her business in spite of the financial hardship she is facing.

“I don’t want to risk losing my business license or getting fined,” she said. “And I feel like it is really important for me to follow the governor’s recommendations.”

She added that her business license is state-issued. She said she tried to reach the licensing board and has emailed the governor’s office, but had not received any response by May 7.

She said she was aware that some businesses are obtaining letters from Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington to deem them essential, which they are using as authorization to do at least limited reopenings. But she decided that she did not want to go that route.

Herrington has said that he has given out about 25 letters when businesses have clear plans for safe operations, when the business operations are comparable to others allowed to operate by state public health orders and when opening is essential to a business owner’s survival.

Jeane said she thinks at least some businesses should be able to reopen now and certainly by May 15, the expiration date for current public health orders. She has a very detailed plan about the infection preventive measures she would use if restrictions were eased so she could open her doors again. Those include allowing enough time between appointments to sanitize the salon and requiring everyone to wear face masks and use hand sanitizer, as well as sign a release form. She also will wear a mask and gloves.

“I want to work. I want to work,” she said. “I mean I really need to work. I live to do this. This is my social hour. This is my artistic mind at work. I love the communication with people.”

Still she thinks it is important to follow the state public health orders, and said that she thinks doing so will allow businesses to reopen officially sooner.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a recent press conference that the current “stay-at-home” orders that also restrict business and consumer activities could be extended beyond May 15 unless New Mexicans statewide are complying with orders and statewide infections rates are declining.

An argument that financial survival also matters

DeAnna Price is one of the Chaves County business owners who have chosen to reopen, after receiving a letter from Sheriff Herrington.

She has run DeAnna’s Cubby for about 10 years. The store is now located on West Second Street and carries an assortment of items, including kratom and CBD products.

While the merit of those products in treating pain or medical conditions is debated, Price contends that some of her customers consider them essential to their well-being.

She also said that reopening was a financial necessity.

“My husband is retired and his check covers our mortgage almost to the dollar,” she said. “And what I make here at the store — which isn’t much in the first place, we really struggle every month — covers everything else. With me being closed as long as we were, it was really starting to hurt, so I needed to get some income rolling.”

She said she applied for emergency assistance, but never heard back. A short time ago, she said, she received a bit of money. “It helped me pay a few bills and that was it,” she said.

On April 30, Lujan Grisham relaxed some of the state orders. She allowed what had been categorized as “non-essential” retail operations to open as long as they served customers curbside, by delivery or online.

Price said she is conducting her business primarily by appointment. But, if a walk-up customer stops by, she said she will let them in the store if doing so will not cause people to be in close contact with each other. She said she understands the potential seriousness of COVID-19 and takes precautions by wearing a mask and wiping down doors, counters and other surfaces between customers.

She said she is aware that other business owners in New Mexico and other states have been fined or cited by law enforcement for operating, but she hopes New Mexico authorities will consider the larger picture.

“I am really hoping that they have enough consideration for what all of us are trying to do to follow the rules and take care of our families at the same time, as well as other people’s families,” she said. “As long as we are trying to follow the rules and keep things safe, then hopefully they will be OK with it. If not, then hopefully they will be kind enough to give us a warning.”

As with many others in Roswell who have spoken out against the public health orders, Price said she thinks that the current orders are unfair. She said she wrote to the governor’s office after orders were first issued to object to business closures, but never heard back.

“I don’t feel like we are increasing any illnesses or anything because of the precautions we are taking,” she said. “And most small businesses are like me. If I get 10 or 15 people in here in a day, I am excited. The small businesses aren’t the ones she needs to be worried about. It is the larger ones that have more people all gathered up in them.”

She also said that Chaves County is not New York or Los Angeles, and shouldn’t be treated like large cities.

State or local authority

Nora Sackett, communications director for Lujan Grisham, when asked about possible local business reopenings, said that the state orders are law and that county and city resolutions are not.

Herrington has made a couple of videos appealing to Lujan Grisham and her office to work with him on developing plans to allow businesses owners facing bankruptcy or other severe financial crises to reopen.

In his most recent video posted Friday morning about a letter he wrote on behalf of gyms used by first responders, he said he is not being defiant but trying to work within the state orders. He said gyms are facilities used by first responders and emergency workers.

“We don’t want anybody to get sick,” he said, ‘“but I also don’t want people to go bankrupt. And I also know that when people get desperate for money, crimes go up.”

He reiterated his point that Chaves County, with 27 cases and two deaths, is not like Gallup, which has been ordered locked down at least until today. Gallup is in McKinley County, which has the highest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases and among the highest number of deaths.

He also said added that some of the business owners that came to him seeking a letter to reopen did not receive one if he did not consider them to fit within the criteria of essential businesses as outlined in state orders.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.