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Exuberance and caution as Missouri opens for business

Exuberance and caution as Missouri opens for business

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JEFFERSON COUNTY — By the time you read this, Kenny’s Bar and Grill, a roadhouse and pool hall about 25 miles south of St. Louis, will have been open for hours.

The owners of the 10,000-square-foot establishment on Highway 6 1/67 in the unincorporated community of Barnhart, said they planned to open for billiards on Monday just after the clock strikes midnight. The bar opens at 7 a.m.

Monday marks the first day after Gov. Mike Parson’s stay-at-home order expires. Businesses across most of the state can start letting customers inside, with rules that still limit the size of gatherings. Franklin County started relaxing its rules a week earlier. The executives for Jefferson and St. Charles counties last week said they would follow Parson, while St. Louis and St. Louis County remain locked down indefinitely on orders from their top leaders.

Kenny Vaughn, owner of Kenny’s Bar and Grill, said his bar will observe guidelines on social distancing, including staying 6 feet apart. Customers may wear masks if they bring them, but don’t have to wear them. Vaughn said his place, which has 14 pool tables and a live music stage, can safely allow 100 to 120 customers into a space that might normally have a few hundred more.

Vaughn said it comes down to survival. One of his employees came to him in tears recently, saying she was about to lose her house. He said he loaned her the money, then gathered his staff of about 50 and said, “‘I’ve got to get this rolling.’ A lot of them are single and they have kids to feed.”

Billiards league play is on hold for now, but tournaments may start next week.

“We are going to do every other table so we can keep everybody distanced as much as we possibly can,” Vaughn’s fiancée, Shawn Dimick, said. “We are giving our customers a choice if they want to come in or not. We have a lot of single parents that work here that need to come back to their job, and we’re trying to do the best to accommodate our customers and accommodate our employees.”

Some businesses that had been looking forward to Monday as the start of a return to normalcy, found themselves over the weekend putting the brakes on plans to reopen.

Mary Hostetter, owner of the Blue Owl Restaurant & Bakery in the quaint village of Kimmswick, a darling of national food and travel shows and magazines, had planned to welcome customers inside starting on Tuesday. The restaurant, known for its Levee High Apple Pie, had been closed for seven weeks without curbside or delivery service. She got a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help make payroll for her staff of more than 40.

Then came news on Friday that authorities were reporting four more COVID-19 deaths in Jefferson County, bringing its total to eight.

It was too much for Hostetter. “I talked to my staff and my servers and I just think that to take precautions for everyone that I need to wait for inside dining. So we’ve decided we are going to start curbside on Tuesday.”

It wasn’t that customers didn’t want to come, she said. She has to cancel a number of reservations for Mother’s Day on May 10. But she said she had people’s safety in mind. And, she said, so do her employees.

“When the governor said that it was safe, or that it was good to go, I was thinking, ‘OK, everyone is ready to come back to work at that point.’”

But that wasn’t necessarily the case. The mother of one of her servers lives in a retirement home. Another server has a relative with diabetes.

“People have their families they have to go home to, so I think it’s better as a precaution to just wait until maybe St. Louis County opens. It’s a hard decision to make, but I have to have enough staff to do it.”

Nearby, the owner of Mississippi Mud Gallery and Gifts also backed off opening this week, but said she might try to open May 12. In the meantime, she’s selling through her website and letting people pick up their purchase at the curb.

In High Ridge, Penny Wattle, 69, co-pastor of Living Praise Ministries, said she’s looking forward to welcoming back churchgoers to the full-gospel Christian service she celebrates every Sunday with her husband, pastor Sonny Wattle.

Under Parson’s order, the church’s roughly 20 members had been unable to gather for praise since April 5.

It took a younger, tech-savvier church member to help the Wattles set up a tripod for broadcasting services on Facebook the past two weeks. Penny Wattle said it has meant preaching while looking at her flaws on the screen.

Although they will resume their in-person services, she said, they’ll have to keep it to 10 guests. And they’ll keep using Facebook, because it gives them a chance to reach more people.

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