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Downtown Paxton is shown from the air on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

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There are bills to pay and clients who miss her. But Teressa McRae said she can’t defy the governor’s executive order and reopen her hair salon ahead of an official OK from the state.

“I’ve got a salon license. I’ve also got a cosmetology license,” said McRae, owner of Gibson City’s SpeakEasy Salon and Spa. “I can’t run the risk of losing my license.”

A day after the Ford County Board approved a resolution saying business owners should have the opportunity to reopen if they choose — with safety precautions taken — some business owners were all for it.

And some were hesitant.

“We don’t want to be the first one stepping out,” said Jackie Fields, who helps out at Blue Star Cafe of Gibson City.

Customers were urging Blue Star to be the first to fully reopen, she said, but the owners want to know more, and they want to talk to the health department.

McRae warned there could be consequences for nonessential businesses reopening in defiance of a state order.

Even if the county and local police aren’t going to go after businesses that reopen early, McRae said, “the state police could still come and shut us down.”

The resolution passed by the board also states that continuation of the executive order prohibiting the opening and operation of nonessential businesses “represents a threat to those businesses and the overall economy of Ford County.”

It also states the county board “supports steps being taken by the Ford County Public Health Department and local law enforcement agencies in promulgating a procedure whereby local businesses have the option to open without concern of local enforcement of the governor’s executive order.”

County board member Randy Ferguson said the resolution is a show of support for small local businesses.

Those that choose to go ahead and reopen would be expected to follow the same safety guidelines essential businesses are, and any that are licensed by the state would need to comply with state requirements, he said.

Danielle Walls, community health educator with the Ford County Health Department, said the health department lacks the authority to tell non-essential businesses they can override the governor’s order for them to remain closed for now.

The health department plans to work with businesses about how they can protect themselves and their customers, she said, but the health department isn’t encouraging them to reopen.

Hood’s Ace Hardware in Gibson City and Mahomet has remained open as an essential business. But Jim Hood, who owns the stores with wife Amy, said some of their friends have had to keep their businesses closed since late March.

“And they’re going to lose their livelihood if they don’t get something going,” he said.

As long as businesses commit to operating safely, Hood said, he wants to see them able to reopen.

“I’m anxious for these folks to get back to business so we still have them,” he said.

As part of the safety measures the Hoods’ two stores have in place, all customers must use hand sanitizer when they enter to help protect surfaces. Masks are on, and shields are up, he said.

“People have been really terrific, and we’re really grateful to our customers,” Hood said.

Big box vs. small business

Jeanine Litwiller, owner of Gibson City’s Strictly Kids Resale Shop, was waiting to learn exactly what the county board resolution means, she said.

“I just don’t know what the clear-cut direction is,” she said.

When she has the go-ahead, though, Litwiller said she’s ready to reopen. Selling clothing for kids in the new pandemic world has meant creating a new online store, posting pictures of at least some of the merchandise, taking orders and bringing items out to the curbside, Litwiller said.

She and her employees have also become personal shoppers, filling requests for certain items and certain sizes.

“We take pictures and send them to them, and if they like it and approve of it, they will purchase that over the phone,” she said.

Litwiller said she respects measures put in place to keep people safe, but she also knows Ford County is a different community than others.

“What I find hard is the big box stores staying open,” she said. “They have a lot more financial backing than us little people do, and it’s very difficult to pay the bills with the minimal income coming in.”

‘Skin of our teeth’

As long as people maintain social distances, wear masks and take other precautions, Richard Arnold at Paxton’s A Picket Fence Florist & Market Street Kids ReSale Store said he doesn’t see a problem with local businesses reopening.

“The problem will be getting people to come back out,” he predicted.

This business, owned by his girlfriend, is surviving, Arnold said. It delivered a lot of flowers for Mother’s Day, but the resale shop has been closed since pandemic restrictions took effect.

“We’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth,” he said.

Scott Allen, who owns Paxton Hardware and Rental with wife Lisa, said he’s also in favor of his fellow businesses reopening. He stands for capitalism, he said, and “being able to do what you choose to do.”

His store has remained busy, Allen said, but he’s also working short-handed, not taking days off and paying his older workers to stay home. And those employees are itching to come back to work, he said.

While she can’t reopen her salon yet, McRae said she doesn’t begrudge other businesses a chance to reopen.

When the stay-at-home order first went into effect, she thought she had plenty to do around the house to keep her busy, she said. But then the order was extended again and again.

“I’m finding out what retirement is like, and I’m only 57,” she said.