Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify a comment from Montclair Center BID Executive Director Jason Gleason.
By ERIN ROLL
Montclair’s business community is bracing for a heavy financial blow, as the state has ordered the closing of bars, gyms, movie theaters and other establishments in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, effective 8 p.m. March 16.
Restaurants and cafes are switching to take-out only, in compliance with the state’s order, but some businesses in Montclair decided to shutter altogether.
Jason Gleason, the executive director of the Montclair Center BID, described the mood among business owners and BID staff on Monday morning as “chaotic.” The BID spent the weekend holding conference calls with its board of directors and speaking with township officials, including Mayor Robert Jackson, Township Administrator Timothy Stafford and the Montclair Health Department.
“Honestly, they’re all in a state of panic. They’re like, oh my God, what do we do?” said Gleason, about the governor’s announcement about closures of bars and restaurants made suddenly on Monday, March 16.
On Tuesday, Gleason posted a video to social media, urging businesses that offer curbside pickup and delivery to post their names in the comment section and get their names out. He also urged Montclair residents to keep supporting local businesses during the course of the shutdown.
In a press briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said there was too much “business as usual,” with people continuing to go to bars and restaurants in large numbers.
“It seems like all the way up the authority chain, nobody was really ready for prime time on this,” Gleason said, referring to the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
The town also lifted meter parking so that customers could park for free when picking up takeouts.
Even before the governor’s announcement, business owners reported a drop in business. Mike Guerriero, the owner of Gelati Montclair, said via social media that he and his staff had noticed a drop in walking traffic last week, with fewer people eating in and more families sending in a family member to pick orders up. “The biggest issue we see is that this is going to hurt the Easter/Passover holiday season. If cases go up, and things get worse which they are expected to, it could wipe out the bump/start to the season that many businesses rely on.”
Prior to the state’s announcement, several cafes, restaurants and salons in Montclair decided to close of their own accord. The Montclair Social Club and the Paper Plane Coffee Company were two of the first to announce their closings late Saturday.
On Saturday, the Montclair Social Club announced that it would temporarily close after the Saturday night dinner service. “This has been an extremely difficult time and determination, but we believe this decision is in the best interests of our restaurant and the public,” Jason Miller, the Montclair Social Club’s president, said in a statement.
Paper Plane Coffee Company announced late Saturday night that the coffee shop’s physical location on Claremont Avenue will close for two weeks, but online orders would be filled, and gift cards were available for purchase. “On any given day our cafe sees over a hundred visitors. Even with our precautions, if only one of those people manages to infect two, five, or 10 people that becomes a thousand in only a matter of time,” said Jonathan Echeverry, Paper Plane’s owner.
The store’s staff will continue to be paid for the duration of the closure, Echeverry said.
Parlor Hair Studio on Glenridge Avenue also announced Sunday that it would be closing.
Salon owner Wendy Fox-Warfield said she was also working on the logistics of making sure her staff would continue to get paid, including receiving sick pay and other benefits.
New Jersey will be setting up an online portal for small businesses to seek aid and assistance. Murphy also said that the state may be seeking federal help in the long term to help small businesses recover. Gleason said that once BID learns more specific information about aid for small businesses, that information will be sent out. “We’re all going to have to work together to right the ship,” he said.
“We’re just doing our best to disseminate any official info from the state, from the county, from the township,” Gleason said of the BID’s role. “But, yeah, the small business community is in dire freakout mode right now.”
Gleason said the Montclair Center BID was encouraging the community to buy gift cards and gift certificates from their favorite businesses in order to help keep revenue coming in during the outbreak.
No more toilet paper
Concerns about COVID-19 have led to grocery stores and pharmacies running out of certain items, most notably hand sanitizer, hand soap, paper towels and toilet paper.
Despite store placing limits on the number of purchases for items such as paper towels, toilet paper and water, at the ACME on Valley Road, the store was almost completely wiped out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap and hand sanitizer on the evening of March 12.
On social media, residents reported going to grocery stores for early morning grocery runs, only to find that many items were sold out, and that there were long lines.
Kings was almost completely out of paper towels, toilet paper, hand soap and certain household cleaners as of early Friday evening, and items such as bread, frozen vegetables, pasta and pasta sauce were also greatly depleted. Toilet paper was limited to four items.
By Monday morning, residents reported via social media that the stores were starting to run out of items like bread, deli meat and eggs.
The CVS locations in Montclair were also limiting hand sanitizer purchases.
Many people were shopping at hardware stores for paper goods and even hand sanitizer. American Royal Hardware announced on social media that they carry items such as Purell and Lysol wipes year round, but advised customers to call ahead as those items were selling out before the shelves could be restocked.