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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

Tell leaders you can reopen your store safely

Some states are allowing furniture stores to reopen. Others will take that step soon. Still others will wait until the spread of the coronavirus subsides substantially.

Many governors plan a gradual approach to relaxing restrictions. Indeed, White House guidelines advise states to proceed in phases determined by public health criteria.

For those stores waiting to reopen, there is a strong argument to make for sooner rather than later. The biggest advantage that furniture stores have is space. They have large showrooms and they don’t need to have many customers in them at a time. They can enforce social distancing. As long as they implement other safe practices, such as use of gloves and masks and frequent cleaning, they can operate with low risks.

The following sample letter offers an appeal for reopening. It can be adapted to fit the circumstances of an individual business and sent to a governor, state legislators, a mayor or other state or local officials. Part of the content comes from testimony to Ohio legislators by Stephen Krull, vice president, general counsel and secretary for Home Furnishings Association member La-Z-Boy Incorporated. La-Z-Boy welcomes other furniture retailers to use it.

Dear (state or local government official):

The coronavirus crisis has dealt a heavy blow to the American people and our economy. We all owe a great debt to the medical professionals, first responders and essential workers who are saving lives and making sure that we have access to food, utilities and other necessities.

My employees and my home furnishings business have been affected just like everyone else. We closed our doors to contribute to the public health response, and our sales fell to nearly nothing. Yet, we have found that the demand for furniture has remained high.

People are working remotely and students are finishing their semesters from home. Families need furniture to live and work. People who struggle with mobility or who are recovering from illness or surgery often need specialized furniture, such as lift chairs or adjustable beds, which are considered durable medical equipment. Many health-care workers treating COVID-19 patients must self-quarantine to protect their families when they go home and are living temporarily in basements or garages. Those workers need beds, desks, chairs and other furniture. We believe that this crisis has shown that furniture is, indeed, a very essential product. Staying at home is essential to defeating COVID-19, and home furnishings are essential for staying at home.

Yet, my business has been closed as “non-essential,” while many big-box stores and online retailers have remained open because they sell “essential” items such as over-the-counter medication, food, hardware and appliances. However, these retailers have not been limited to selling products deemed essential. They are selling and shipping home furnishings nationwide, proving the demand for those products while businesses like mine have been severely restricted in our operations.

Most important: Who can open safely

Now, states and communities are planning for a gradual lifting of restrictions as the number of new infections decreases and recovery begins. It is time to set new priorities. While continuing to suggest that my business provides essential products to my customers, I believe greater consideration now should be given to businesses that can reopen safely. The question that matters going forward isn’t what products people buy but whether they can shop for them in a safe and healthy environment.

Social distancing is most important, and I will set strict limits on how many customers are permitted in my store at a time. Fortunately, furniture stores don’t rely on a heavy volume of customers, yet we display our products in spacious showrooms. We can easily maintain appropriate distances between customers, between employees and customers, and between employees.

We will enforce safety protocols for our employees. They will use masks and gloves as appropriate, they will thoroughly clean their work stations many times each day, and they will be required to stay home if they feel ill or display any symptoms.

We will clean our store before we open, throughout the day and then again after we close. We will regularly wipe down all commonly used surfaces such as door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and countertops with a sanitizing cleaner. We will have sanitary wipes available throughout the store for use by customers and employees. Employees will be required to wash their hands frequently.

Safety for customers and employees

We will post signs explaining our protocols. Those signs will also ask customers to maintain appropriate distances inside the store, to wear masks and gloves if they are comfortable doing so, and to shop at another time if they are feeling ill or displaying symptoms.

Our delivery crews will observe all proper precautions. They will leave deliveries outside customers’ homes if that is desired. If they deliver products into homes, they will wear masks, gloves and shoe coverings and use sanitizers as appropriate.

I understand that I cannot resume business as normal. I know that opening my store by itself won’t bring back customers and employees unless they are confident that my store maintains a safe and healthy environment. That is my commitment to my customers, my employees, my community and to you. Please allow my business to reopen with all the safeguards I will implement. Thank you.

Sincerely,

(Name and business)

[HFA’s Recovery Resources]

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