Kristina Wargnier, of Salem, waits outside of Cooke Stationery Company on May 12, 2020. Wargnier was dropping off face masks for employees to the store. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Colleen Henery has felt like her store has been on an island.

The co-owner of Cooke Stationery Company, Henery said she stopped seeing her neighbors, nearby business owners and their employees, after state orders in March closed much of the economy and downtown Salem went dark.

With the state mandates in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Henery said her store at 370 State St. continued delivering office and cleaning supplies to commercial clients.

“For a while, we were sending out a roll of toilet paper with every delivery,” she said.

As the state has prepared to relax the orders, Henery said she’s seen signs of downtown coming back to normal, such as Wild Pear, a neighboring restaurant, offering takeout on Mother’s Day.

Last week, Gov. Kate Brown allowed 31 counties to begin reopening bars, restaurants, salons and other businesses shuttered due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Marion and Polk counties didn’t meet the reopening criteria but as of Friday, May 15, the governor was letting all retailers in Oregon reopen their doors.

Downtown Salem is flickering back to life. 

The city of Salem opened Marion and Chemeketa Parkades on Friday. Construction projects, including the new police station, have continued. Closed businesses have reopened and others are preparing to do so.

But downtown won’t snap back to how it was before the pandemic. The Elsinore Theatre and Salem's Historic Grand have canceled or postponed events. Some businesses will open more slowly than others. And those that do will face obstacles to staying open.  

Mark Bulgin is the executive director of Isaac’s Room, a nonprofit helping young people build job skills. The nonprofit operates Isaac’s Coffee, Wine & Dessert, located at 201 Commercial St N.E., as well as the IKE Box, located at 299 Cottage St. N.E.

He said that after the state orders were issued, Isaac’s switched to providing to-go orders for sandwiches, pastries and charcuterie plates. But he said IKE Box temporarily closed because the state government workers who normally come in for coffee and pastries have been working at home.

Angel Wilson, center, a barista at IKE Box, works on a drink order alongside co-workers Alex Simmons, left, and Brandon Sanders, right, on May 12, 2020. IKE Box re-opened last Monday. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Last week, IKE Box reopened after it received a loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, he said. However, he said that business has remained slow and its 25 employees have been doing yard work and other projects at the 100-year-old building.

The loan covers payroll for eight weeks and Bulgin said he’s counting on the economy reopening by the time it runs out. He said he’s not sure what will happen if it doesn’t.

“Have you heard of anyone who has a Plan B?” he said. “We are all in Plan B.”

Dana Vugteveen, Salem Center general manager, said that malls can only open in counties that have met the reopening criteria. He said that when that time comes, Salem Center will be ready to reopen with a social distancing plan. Tables in the food court will be spaced out and signs advising customers to wear masks and stay home if they’re sick will be displayed, he said.

He said that individual retailers can open their street entrances to customers while access to the mall remains closed. Vugteveen didn’t know which businesses were open and which remained closed and said customers should call ahead.

“Assuming they are going to open,” he said. “Some may not open.”

Large national retailers in Salem Center will face complications reopening after furloughing employees and having to update merchandise, he said. 

Both Macy's and JCPenney (which filed for bankruptcy) at Salem Center had phone messages indicating they remained closed. Kohl’s, however, opened on Monday. 

Tom Hoffert, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce CEO, said that Marion and Polk counties’ reopening plans will again be considered by the governor’s office on Wednesday. If approved, they’ll join other counties approved for reopening by Friday, he said. 

He said that many businesses have social distancing plans, have secured personal protective equipment and have met other public health requirements to reopen.

“There are hundreds of businesses in Salem that are ready to open tomorrow,” he said.

Once they open, he said there will be pinch points. Some smaller businesses will have a harder time securing personal protective equipment sold in large quantities, he said. There’s also the issue of employer liability if an employee falls ill with COVID-19, he said.

Other businesses won’t be ready to reopen, said Hoffert. 

Hazel Patton, interim director of the Salem Main Street Association, took a walk through downtown over the weekend. She said stores were less crowded and there were fewer people on the street.

“It’s going in the right direction,” she said. “I think people are being cautious and that’s not bad.” 

Henery said Cooke Stationery Company is installing sneeze shields and taking other steps to reopen its retail section that sells gift cards, printer cartridges and others. While she said that the store’s retail portion, which accounts for about 30% of its business, will reopen in the coming weeks, she hasn’t set a date.

While the front of the store has been closed, Henery said that occasionally customers have come by looking for printer cartridges or other items. She said employees will retrieve the requested item and exchange it for cash at the front door.

But she said no lines of customers have formed outside the store and she doesn't think people are in the mood for shopping.

“I don’t see everyone rushing out right away,” she said. 

Mike Witenberger, owner of OK Barber Shop, and Steve Gorham, a lawyer who works in a neighboring office and whose family owns the building, talk outside on State Street on May 12, 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or jake@salemreporter.com or @jakethomas2009.

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