Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Executive order shutters a host of Johnston businesses

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CLAYTON — With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Roy Cooper shuttered the state’s hair salons, barbershops, nails salons and similar businesses as of 5 p.m. March 25.

The decision could be devastating for Tenelle Hood, a cosmetologist at Kirby’s Precision Cuts on Main Street in Clayton. “This is my income; this is my life,” said Hood, who has been styling hair for 34 years.

Hood said she relies solely on her hair business to pay rent and buy food. “It’s frustrating right now,” she said. “Our bills don’t stop moving. I’m trying to pay rent.”

Hood was at a loss when asked how she planned to get by. “Honestly, I don’t know,” she said. “That’s the nerve-racking part. I feel like I’ve been fired from my own career. My hands feel very tied.”

After the government shut her down, Hood said she wanted to know what it planned to do to help her out. “I’m trying to find out what is the government going to do for people (like) myself,” she said. “I’m not a restaurant. I don’t have employees. I’m self-employed.”

Like many restaurant owners the week before, Hood was unhappy with the governor’s order shutting down her livelihood. “I think it’s a little too far when it comes to our type of service,” she said. “Everybody’s not working at home. Everybody’s not retired. So they still got to look presentable to handle their business.”

A few doors down from Hood, at Divas Hair Creations, Angela Williams was worried about the many students she had taught in her part-time job as a cosmetology instructor. “I have mixed feelings about the closing,” she said. “A lot of the stylists I know, that’s their only job.”

The governor’s decision has also created uncertainty for the clients of stylists, including Dorothy Gorham of Kenly. A regular customer of Williams’, she drove to Clayton from Kenly on March 25 for what was likely her last styling for a while.

“I’m here trying to get a style I know will last a little while,” Gorham said. “When you’re used to getting your hair done every two weeks, it’s kind of rough knowing you’ll have to wait a month to get it done again.”

Gorham, who works in pharmaceuticals, expressed sympathy for business owners who are having to close their doors. “I think it’s going to be a little rough for some people,” she said. “I thank God I’m still able to have my job.”

The governor’s order also closed fitness centers, forcing owner Cameron White and his team at Flex Affect in Smithfield to think online instead of in person for classes, one-on-one coaching and nutritional services.

“We got our team together, and we’re doing the things we can to prepare the best we can,” White said. “As a business, we’re being extremely adaptable right now, trying to offer our clients the best service we can through online programming, motivation and accountability and things like that.”

White said he expects the current situation will separate the strong gyms from the weak ones. “I do believe the only silver lining on this is every facility is in the same position we are in,” he said. “I believe the best facilities with the best culture and people are going to rise and adapt, and I think the people with the worst culture and are not doing a great job of serving their members are going to struggle here.”

Whether online or in person, a fitness center is still a fitness center, White said. “We’re going to go forward business as usual,” he said. “The location and the manner of which we’re delivering our product is changing.”

After Gold’s Gym closed its Clayton fitness center at 3 p.m. Wednesday, President and CEO Adam Zeitsiff said the company was offering free fitness options.

“Because exercise is a key component in maintaining personal health and supporting the immune system, Gold’s Gym is offering free fitness solutions to members and non-members across the United States, including premium access to our digital personal training app GOLD’S AMP and on-demand streaming video workouts, so everyone can stay active, healthy and continue working out wherever they feel comfortable and safe,” Zeitsiff said.

Zeitsiff said the company was preparing for the day when it could reopen its gyms. “We continue to follow all direction from public health officials, and we are doing our best to manage all aspects of our business so we can ensure our gyms are able to reopen as soon as it is safe for our community,” he said.

Though the governor didn’t close bowling alleys until March 25, Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center in Clayton shut down March 17 out of an abundance of caution, said marketing manager Melanie Campbell. “We felt by shutting down last week it was in the best interest for everybody,” she said.

“We didn’t want it to seem like we were not taking this serious enough,” Campbell said. “We wanted to keep everybody working, but it was not worth the risk of being (seen) as being negligent and not caring about what was going on. Everybody’s health comes first.”

Campbell did say, however, that she thought people were overreacting to the coronavirus threat. “I get we want to take precautions and try to protect people, but are we going to shut down the world every time something new comes out?” she said. “You can’t keep shutting the world down; you cannot.”

Pondra Byrd, an owner of the 23-year-old bowling alley, said she has had to lay off many of Rainbow Lanes’ 30-plus employees, something she thought she’d never have to do. “Since this first started, that has been my worst fear,” she said. “We employ mostly part-time workers, but they depend on us for a paycheck week after week, and we take that seriously.”

Amid the upheaval, Byrd called on the community to unite. “Our business is no different thany any other,” she said. “We’re all in this together. Nobody is immune to it.”

“We’re just taking it a day at the time,” Byrd added. “I hope for everybody’s sake that this does not drag out for a long time.”

The governor’s order also closed movie theaters, including the Howell Theatre on South Third Street in downtown Smithfield.

“When you have something like this, you have two options,” said Bill Johnson, the theater’s owner. “You can either fold to it, or you can come out better than where you started.”

Johnson said he was going with the latter option. “We’re just trying to figure out what we can be doing during this time to make it better when we reopen,” he said.

“I think a lot of people are reevaluating their business plan,” Johnson added. “It’s just a matter of preparing. Just like you would for a hurricane, you’ve got to prepare your business. And I think we were all caught with our pants down. I’m trying to put together a plan.”