Local Stores Face Challenges Re-opening in Charleston

Apr 29, 2020

Hand sanitzer is made available at the entrance of M. Dumas and Sons on King Street
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

It's one of those warm days when a little free air conditioning would feel good strolling along King Street in Charleston.  But despite the governor's executive order allowing retailers to re-open during the coronavirus pandemic, many store doors remain padlocked.

"We've been through a few world wars and a couple of depressions," says Gary Flynn, part owner of M. Dumas and Sons.  "We'll get through this too."

The upscale men's clothing store at the corner of King and Society Streets is open, and that's not surprising.  The business has been around for 103 years.

"You know, we will learn something from this time we're in," says Flynn.  "We'll do things differently coming out of it that we can't even foresee right now."

"We will evolve."

If only the strongest will survive, M. Dumas and Sons is flexing its muscles.  Rent is expensive on King Street, but fortunately they own their main building.

The store's owners are grateful for the opportunity to re-open even if it means wearing masks, offering hand sanitizer and enforcing social distancing measures.  Online, they've advertised sales.

"It's the first store we found that's open," says Holly Warren.  She's from Charlotte, visiting her boyfriend's family.

"I got a good deal on stuff," says Nick Maffucci.  "So when everything opens I'll look good."  The couple laughs.

But Nick is still working from home.  South Carolina has extended its stay at home order.  The number of coronavirus cases across the state has not consistently dropped.

Outside the Sottile Theater on King Street. The area is still quiet despite businesses being allowed to re-open
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

"We're stuck with it whether we like it or not," says Charleston City Councilman Peter Shahid during an emergency meeting.

Shahid believes Governor Henry McMaster's order isn't fair.  It allowed beaches to re-open, but gave coastal communities the final say.  Except for a few beaches around Myrtle Beach, most remain closed.

As for cities, Councilman Shahid argues they have little say.  The governor's order allowed each business to decide whether to reopen.

So, the Charleston City Council recently passed an emergency order calling for tougher restrictions for re-opening businesses.  It especially limits the number of customers allowed in.

Sign outside Half-Moon Outfitters shows limited hours and maximum customers
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

At Half-Moon Outfitters, the doors are locked.  But the store is very much open.  A sign outside gives instructions.  You must knock.

"There are a lot of personal feelings being mixed with business," says Assistant Store Manager Brent Ferguson.

He's pleased to have a paycheck, but does worry about exposure.

"There's still not vaccine.  We haven't technically flattened this curve out," he says.  "South Carolina has been fortunate compared to other states it sounds like, but we don't feel quite out of the woods yet."

While Ferguson and his co-workers wear masks, many of the customers in off the street do not.  What's more, if you try on something you don't buy at this store, that item is quarantined.

"We're definitely tired of Walmart and Target," says J.R. Tabarsi.  "It's really nice to spend some money and know that it's going to go back to the city."

Tabari and his wife April recently moved to Charleston from Dallas, Texas.  They're trying to support local businesses by going store to store and buying something in each one that is open.  But they're doing a lot more window shopping than actual shopping.

Half-Moon Outfitters assistant store manager Brent Ferguson (left) and a co-worker prepare for customers
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio

All the big-name retail chains like Anthropology and J. Crew are closed.  Only the local shops are trying to do business and there are few.

A for lease sign hangs in the empty window of a former restaurant.  What looks like an electricity bill is tucked in the padlocked door of a store.

On King Street, it's anything but business as usual.