Owners of a select variety of businesses that will be allowed to reopen Friday under Gov. Janet Mills’ phased economic recovery plan are approaching the milestone with a mix of eagerness and trepidation.

Dani Nisbet, who owns the Belissimo hair salon in South Portland, said she won’t actually reopen until Saturday at the earliest. She said the hair stylists who rent space in her salon are eager to work, but she wants to make sure the salon is ready.

“They’re so anxious to get back to work,” Nisbet said. But learning the new rules and meeting all the requirements to reopen “is a lot. It’s a really hard way to do business.”

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development planned to publish guidelines on its website starting Wednesday afternoon for businesses that will be allowed to reopen Friday. Those businesses include non-critical health care providers, hair salons, barbershops, auto dealerships, car washes, drive-in movie theaters, some outdoor recreation providers and a few other limited operations.

Businesses that download and follow the state’s guidelines can get a “badge” to display their compliance, which the state said is intended to reassure consumers about patronizing the newly reopened businesses and to make sure the reopening doesn’t contribute to a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Nisbet is eager to start making money again, but wants to be sure that her customers and stylists are safe. Stylists will wear protective face masks and gloves, she said, and customers will have to wear face masks. Three of the stylists’ chairs are in private rooms, she said, and only two or three customers at a time will be permitted in the five chairs in the main part of her Ocean Street salon. Those who are waiting will be allowed on a porch area but not in the main salon, Nisbet said.

Belissimo is going a thorough cleaning and disinfecting process this week, Nisbet said, and she also plans to hang shower curtains between the chairs. Beyond that, she’s waiting to see the state requirements to make sure she can open.

Other stylists plan to sit out Friday’s opening, as well.

Jennifer Jaye Leigh, the owner of O2 salon in Portland, plans to follow the city’s later opening date in mid-May, even though the state law takes precedence and Portland officials have vowed to suspend enforcement of the stricter municipal order. Leigh said she will open her doors May 18, with restrictions on the number of customers and other limits.

Leigh is still waiting for a shipment of masks and gloves she ordered, and she doesn’t want to rush the return to business.

“I know people are really excited to get their hair cut and colored,” she said, “but I think it’s really important to take care of the community. It’s definitely going to be a different world.”

Leigh’s stylists are employees rather than contractors, and she was able to obtain financial aid from the federal government to help them through the shutdown.

Aminata D. Ford plans a limited opening for her Ami’s Salon in Mill Creek in South Portland on Saturday, and then “the whole shebang will start on Monday.”

Like others, she’s waiting to see the state guidelines to help her determine what she needs to do to reopen.

Ford was out for a drive with her 13-year-old daughter Tuesday afternoon when she started receiving texts and then a phone call from customers asking if she would be reopening. As of early Wednesday afternoon, she wasn’t certain what requirements she would need to meet in order to start cutting hair again.

“I’m going to be wearing a mask and gloves, and I’m going to ask my customers to wear a mask,” she said.

She’s also asking customers not to arrive before their appointed times. She plans to disinfect her workspace after every customer.

“Because my salon is very small and it’s only me, I think it will be very easy to manage,” she said. “And I’m a very clean person in the first place.”

Ford said she’s excited about getting back to work but also a bit wary.

“I’m scared because this (virus) is still there and there’s no vaccine yet,” she said. “I’m also worried that if I don’t go back and other salons will be open, my customers will go somewhere else. But I know my customers like me and I like them a lot. I love seeing them. They make me happy.”

Ford said the forced time off has allowed her to spend more time with her daughter, playing volleyball outside and working in their yard. She admits to being surprised hair salons were among the first wave of businesses allowed to reopen.

“I didn’t know my job was this important until this happened,” she said. “There’s other stuff that’s more important than haircuts.”

Some businesses said they will only have to make minimal changes to meet the state guidelines.

Daniel Doucette, general manager of Prime Motor Cars in Scarborough, will have adhesive circles on the showroom floor to advise customers where to stand, and all employees will wear face masks for interacting with customers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Daniel Doucette, the general manager of Prime Motor Cars in Scarborough, said the dealership was able to continue operating by largely eliminating contact between customers and workers. Cars are left outside with the keys in so customers can take test drives, Doucette said, and negotiations are handled over the phone. Paperwork for the buyers is left in the car, he said.

Prime Motor Cars has been moving toward a model that limits much of the dealer-buyer interaction, he said. The dealership operates a YouTube channel that spotlights cars available at the Mercedes-Benz dealership. One car caught the attention of a woman in Dallas who bought it, and the dealership arranged to have it delivered to her in Texas, Doucette said.

The dealership produces individual video walkarounds of specific models for potential customers, he said. The approach has meant that a closed showroom since mid-March has produced only a small hiccup in sales. Doucette said the dealership sold 19 cars this month – with two days left to go – compared with 22 sales in April 2019.

Doucette said he bought adhesive circles for the showroom floor to advise customers where to stand when it reopens, and all employees will wear face masks for in-person interactions with customers.

But the reopening of businesses amid the pandemic brings with it a changed legal landscape, said Peter Lowe, a lawyer with the firm Brann and Isaacson in Lewiston.

“It’s keeping me busy,” Lowe said.

The state’s plan to post requirements for reopening businesses on Wednesday with the implementation on Friday is “a short time frame” for many, he said.

Lowe said business owners should resist the temptation to let customer demand drive them to reopen too soon. A customer who gets coronavirus at a business could sue for negligence if he or she can prove that the business did not take the proper steps to protect them. Following state guidelines should prove a good defense, Lowe said.

The pandemic also means employers can get a little more inquisitive about employees’ health, he said. Asking if they’ve been sick, checking for fevers and requiring virus tests would likely have been off-limits in the past, Lowe said, but federal officials have indicated that it’s allowed now because the pandemic is a direct threat to the public’s health and safety.

At least one hair salon is opening Friday morning, but its operator is restarting slowly with only three customers per day.

“I’ve been on the phone for hours and hours trying to work it out, and I think I’ve got it down now,” said Cindi Bartlett of Portland, who runs Opus Hair Studio.

Bartlett said she has already been in touch with the state about the necessary safety checklist.

“I have my own checklist that I think is going to be even more strong,” she said Wednesday afternoon, before the DECD had made any checklists available. “Both myself and my clients will be wearing masks, for sure. I’m only seeing a limited amount of people a day.”

Bartlett is making certain requests of customers, including that they come showered and clean, and not straight from the grocery store or another public place.

“The more they limit their exposure, the better for everyone who sits in my chair,” she said. “I obviously don’t want someone to sit in my chair who just went to Maine Med to sit with their dying mother. Sometimes you just have to spell this out.”

The salon’s mascot, a 7-year-old gray cockapoo named Luci, has been accompanying Bartlett to work since the dog was 3 months old. She wouldn’t be able to understand why people can’t touch her, so Bartlett is leaving her at home.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan contributed to this story.

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