ATTLEBORO -- Foot traffic downtown was slow Monday morning, but it didn’t have anything to do with Gov. Charlie Baker issuing an order closing all “nonessential” businesses by noon Tuesday to stem the growing tide of coronavirus.
But it had everything to do with the virus itself.
By 4 p.m. the state’s Department of Public Health reported that there were 777 cases of the disease in Massachusetts and that nine people had died from it.
People are staying home from work and school and it appears they are staying away from all but essential shopping.
Some of the “nonessential” businesses, like T & T Nails and Ryan Brothers Gob Shop on North Main Street. were already closed on Monday.
Notices were posted on their doors.
Other businesses like Spee Dee Oil Change and Auto Service on North Main, which is designated as an essential business, may as well have been closed.
Manager Chris Laduck, 40, said the business has been decimated over the last week or two.
And by noon on Monday not one customer had appeared.
“We’ve had about half the business we normally have,” he said. “And I haven’t touched the first car today.”
One of his employees was waiting for customers in the waiting room. Another was in the service bay, pacing.
So anyone who needs to get their oil changed, now would be a good time.
Laduck said he took himself off the payroll but is keeping his two workers on it.
“They look after me,” he said. “And I look after them. It’s like a family here.”
No one knows what the future holds, but Laduck is hoping there’s a quick end to the pandemic.
“I’m hoping this all blows over,” he said.
Eastern Hardware next door is also an “essential” business.
But it’s having the same issues other businesses are having — a lack of customers.
Owner Paul Ladouceur said it’s likely he’ll shorten his store’s hours and will post an emergency number on the door so people can still get supplies they need in a pinch.
But even if the contagion ends quickly, the effects are likely to be around a long time, he said.
“Nobody can be prepared for the magnitude of what this can turn into,” Ladouceur said. “This will be a trying time for small businesses. It will break a lot of them.”
Two other businesses downtown, Holman Insurance on County Street and Liberty Tax on South Main, are both considered “essential.”
Holman owner Rick DiGiacomo said his office is closed to foot traffic but customers can still get business done.
“The office will be closed and we will be operating remotely with one person periodically picking up the mail (and) customer paperwork left in the mail slot,” he said. “That person will most likely be me, the staff has been advised to work from home. We will, however, be answering phones, faxes and online messages as usual.”
Lori Bedrosian, owner of Liberty Tax, said her operation will proceed pretty much as usual, but encourages customers to call for appointments.
Liberty has an online virtual tax preparation service as well for those who prefer that, she said.
If the situation with coronavirus worsens, the company has backup plans, Bedrosian said.
One business considered nonessential, except to the owners, of course, is Sirois Bicycle Shop on Landry Avenue in North Attleboro.
Owner Bob Sirois, 54, a third generation owner who operates the shop with brother Joe, 53, said they’ll be shutting down Tuesday as ordered, but it’s a bad time to close and they’re going to lose money.
Parents are out of work and kids are out of school and everyone want to ride bikes, Sirois said.
He’s sold 33 bikes over the last two weeks and that’s very good for this time of year, he said.
Others are bringing bikes in for repair.
Closing is going to hurt.
“We’ll be shut out for the next two weeks,” he said.
And what’s worse, he’ll lose some business to bike shops in Rhode Island, which has not ordered the closure of “nonessential” businesses.
But like other shop owners, he’s trying to stay optimistic.
“I’m sure we’ll get through it,” he said.