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Metro Kansas City Business Owners Struggle With How To Reopen In A Changed World

Picture of a woman in a patterned sweater standing between clothes racks in a thrift store.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman
Amy Abbiatti has been the manager at Manor Thrift Shop for a decade.

As stay-at-home orders start to lift, business owners are thinking about how best to protect their employees, customers, and profits.

Statewide stay-at-home orders in Kansas and Missouri, set in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, are set to expire on May 3. That means many business owners are preparing to welcome customers for the first time in almost two months.

But cities and counties are still allowed to impose stricter rules about who can open and when, so conflicting guidelines are at play throughout the metro region. Kansas City, Missouri's order remains in place through May 15, but some surrounding counties have decided to ease restrictions on May 3.

All of which has led to mixed feelings throughout the metro.

Johnson County, Kansas

Confusing directions for how and when to reopen keep Laura Laiben awake at night. She owns the Culinary Center of Kansas City, which is located in Overland Park, Kansas.

Will people feel comfortable coming to a cooking class? Once they do re-open, how can she best protect her thirty employees? And what about the events they’re planning to cater at the end of May?

Picture of a woman in a black shirt and sunglasses standing outside The Culinary Center of Kansas City
Laura Ziegler
Laura Leiben owns The Culinary Center of Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas. She's shifted cooking classes online for the duration of stay-at-home orders.

Since they closed in mid-March, Laiben said, some of their online courses have been popular.

“We recently hosted an online macaron making class that was gangbusters,” she said. “Our plans change daily, as it does with everybody else. But as of today, we are going to have our first on site class resume on May 16.”

She added that classes will likely be “demo only,” instead of their usual hands-on approach.

Cass County, Missouri

Cara Beck, who manages The Missouri Mud Company in Raymore, is also rethinking how they’ll do business once they open on Monday.

“We’ll have seating maybe at every other booth, and just let people sit on the patio, but I don’t think there will be a lot of people running in to do it,” she said.

Picture of a young woman wearing a neon yellow t-shirt and a black face mask handing a bag of food to someone inside a car
Frank Morris
Cara Beck delivers an order to a customer outside her mom's deli, The Missouri Mud Company, in Raymore, Missouri.

The deli has been a part of Beck’s life for a long time. Owned by her mother, “The Mud,” as it’s called by locals, will celebrate its 21st birthday in October.

“I’m ready for people again. I miss the customers and having a line to the door,” Beck said.

Wyandotte County, Kansas

Also missing customers is Ana Medina, who owns Moda Bella in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

The dress shop focuses mostly on dresses and decorations for weddings and quinceañeras, and while she plans to open her dress shop on Monday, she doesn’t expect it will help recover much lost business.

Medina typically packs most of her annual sales into the months between March and August, when most quinceañeras are held.

Picture of a women wearing a black hat standing in a shop full of quincenera dresses
Chris Haxel
Ana Medina worries that her dress shop, Moda Bella, won't make enough sales this year to cover all the bills.

But Moda Bella has been closed for about 40 days. And many celebrations are either canceled or delayed until sometime after the pandemic.

“We’ve had no business all year,” Medina said. “It’s not enough to pay the bills.”

Government loans for small businesses have helped her stay afloat, she said. She also hopes to salvage some business from people ordering dresses for next year.

“We have to continue to have faith in the Mexican people,” she said. “Because we make a lot of celebrations!”

At Mariscos El Pirata on Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, owner Josefina Saenz isn’t necessarily excited to re-open the restaurant for dining right away.

“I heard that (Wyandotte County) will allow us to open to customers next Monday,” she said. “But I decided to wait two or three weeks.”

Picture of a woman in a black apron and wearing a blue face mask standing in a restaurant
Chris Haxel
Mariscos El Pirata in Kansas City, Kansas, would be allowed to open as early as May 3rd, but Josefina Saenz worries for the safety of her customers and employees.

Saenz is worried about the safety of her customers — with room for only a handful of dine-in tables, it would be nearly impossible to maintain social distancing in her current space.

Clay County, Missouri

Similarly, Amy Abbiatti is still trying to figure out when to open the Manor Thrift Shop she manages in Liberty, Missouri. Her store relies on volunteers, many of which are older, so she’s hesitant to open Monday.

“They are like family. A lot of them have been here since the store opened back in 1982,” Abbiatti said. “So that’s my biggest consideration. What am I bringing into the store that would not be good for them?”

Abbiatti said she’s looking at the guidelines for the county and wants to talk to her local Chamber of Commerce before making the call.

“As much as we want to get back on our feet and ready to go, we want to do it safely for everyone involved,” Abbiatti said.

The store could open as early as next Tuesday, or closer to the middle of May, when nearby Kansas City’s stay-at-home order ends, but Abbiatti stressed that it’s still up in the air.

In the meantime, she’s been checking in with her volunteers to see what they are comfortable with.

“I'll just wait and see who I get back and who I don't, and I won't blame anybody for any of this because it's way uncharted territory,” Abbiatti said. “We don't know.”

Wondering which stay-at-home ordinance applies to you? We created a guide to the complicated orders from states, counties, and cities.

Melody Rowell is the lead producer for KCUR’s Central Standard. You can find her on Twitter at @MelodyRowell, or by email at melody@kcur.org.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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