“It’s a slap in the face to the businesses that are following this order that a few outliers are putting the community in danger,” Jenkins said.
But locals had been patronizing those retailers for homeschool materials and crafts to keep suddenly homebound children occupied, and for supplies to make facemasks. Public outcry prompted Jenkins to call back the craft store order weeks later.
No doubt, lawmakers have faced tough challenges. Pearson noted that while we can all agree that food is a necessity, in some jurisdictions, authorities deemed truck stops nonessential, so truckloads of food couldn’t make it to their destinations.
“It's not just the first level of essential, it’s the second and third level of essential. What kinds of things do you need at the third level to support the second level to support the first level? At some point, it really is impossible to know,” he said.
For some businesses, like gyms, social distancing and adequate disinfection would be all but impossible. But what about the hard-hit restaurant industry? Julien Eelsen owns a Whisk Crepes Cafe, a French cafe in an artsy Dallas neighborhood. He’s been able to make up about 75 percent of lost dine-in revenue through the sale of “provisions boxes” containing meat, produce, even gloves, plus French wine.
Overall, he understands why shelter-at-home measures are necessary, and he’s happy to comply. But he admitted to feeling like there was a bit of a double standard when Dallas County implemented restrictions on businesses—especially early on when he saw crowded aisles at grocery stores. “I would look and think, ‘If that is happening here, why can’t I have diners in my restaurant?’” Eelsen said.
Another snag: Local governments have struggled to enforce the rules across the board. That concerns Lauren Bell, who runs residential remodeling company The Chatham Collective in North Texas with her husband, Kris. The Bells played it safe and complied with local regulations that permitted only critical infrastructure or existing or emergency projects to continue, and only then if workers exhibited good health.
That means the Bells said “no” to some opportunities and delayed others. They’re counting on Small Business Administration loans, like the Payroll Protection Program, to get their business through these leaner months.
But even on her own street, Bell is seeing new, elective remodeling projects gearing up. She understands that as people shelter at home, they want to improve the space where they’re spending so much time. But, she said responsible contractors should turn those jobs down.
“I think if the rules apply to me, they also apply to you,” Bell said.
At least one type of store has been allowed to keep its doors open: big box hardware stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s. As Bell noted, existing construction and infrastructure projects are sanctioned, and contractors need supplies. Plus, homeowners need quick recourse if their refrigerator dies or a pipe bursts.
But one Lowe’s employee in Fort Worth told me most customers aren’t there for those kinds of essentials. In fact, appliance sales are moving slower than usual. For the first couple weeks of the economic shut down, district manager Matt Inman saw customers panic-buying things like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, gloves, even N95 facemasks the store stocks for painters.
“Then after week three, people were getting stir-crazy, and it was anything that could keep them sane at home,” he said. His biggest selling item when I spoke to him was paint.
On pretty days, he said the garden center is packed. But Inman said Lowe’s by keeping its doors open helps support people’s mental health, and for the most part, customers are picking up supplies they can use while cooped up at home.
“Whatever I can sell you to keep you home and not leave and not go stir-crazy, to me, that’s an essential,” he said.