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On The Country Club Plaza, 'A Sense Of Normalcy' May Be On The Horizon

Chris Haxel
KCUR 89.3
At Kona Grill, workers prepped the bar and dining room for customers, who could start dining in Friday, May 15.

Business owners hope the return of dine-in eating will bring much-needed foot traffic back to Kansas City's most prominent retail center.

While some essential stores and restaurants in the Country Club Plaza neighborhood have remained open during citywide stay-at-home orders, the occasional take-out order hasn’t done much to fill the shopping district’s empty streets and sidewalks.

But with some restaurants set to begin reopening their dining rooms Friday, there’s hope a surge of visitors will soon bring welcome financial relief to businesses in the form of socially-distanced dining and foot traffic.

There have been signs of life throughout the past two months, with restaurants such as Shake Shack setting up tables outside their doors on the Plaza's main drag to conduct carry-out orders.

Banks have also stayed open, too, at least for drive-thru customers.

But the citywide reopening last week of nonessential businesses didn't do much for many bottom lines, said Jeff Molt, owner of Renner's Fine Boots & Shoes.

“It’s been pretty slow,” Molt told KCUR. “If I had to gauge the number of customers, it’d be in the single digit percentages of what it would normally be.”

Molt hopes the return of foot traffic drawn by the Plaza's eating establishments will bring window shopping to places like his — and the sales that come with it.

“We’ll really appreciate seeing people, whether they come in and buy something or not. If they just come in and look around, any of that is always a plus," he said.

Chris Haxel
At Renner's Fine Boots & Shoes, owner Jeff Molt says business is way down since he reopened last week.

At Kona Grill, the kitchen has been open for carryout orders during the pandemic, but workers were busy Thursday prepping the dining room for eat-in customers.

“We want to make sure we have every mitigating circumstance covered,” said General Manager Rose Tingley. “We’re installing air purifiers and getting sanitation stations setup.”

“What I’m actually about to do is go and move those tables,” she said, motioning across the room.

The city’s latest guidance requires that tables in restaurants be spaced at least 10 feet apart. Where seating is fixed, parties must be spaced at least six feet apart.

Not all businesses are ready to open to the public.

On Thursday, black plywood still covered the windows at personal care chain Sephora. Other retailers, such as outdoor recreation and apparel company Moosejaw, are sticking to curbside pickup for now.

At The Cheescake Factory, the dining room is tentatively set to open May 28.

Chris Haxel
On Thursday, May 14, plywood still covered the windows outside Sephora in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.

Plaza management hopes every business will eventually reopen but is leaving the decision to each individual tenant, said General Manager Kasey Vena.

“We just are really looking forward to getting the stores reopened, getting the restaurants reopened, having things resume to a sense of normalcy,” she said. “We’ll have signs up promoting social distancing, encouraging people to wear masks. We will expect people to comply with the guidelines that are out there by the (Centers for Disease Control).”

On its website, the Country Club Plaza is posting a running list of businesses that are partially or fully opened. The list is updated daily, Vena said.

Back at Kona Grill, Tingley said reservations have been filtering in over the last several days, and she’s expecting a busy weekend.

Happy hour will be back, too.

“I know a lot of people missed our happy hour,” she said. “I hope they come in and see us.”

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