It's been almost a week since many retailers in North Carolina were allowed to reopen as the state moved into Phase 1 of Gov. Roy Cooper's reopening plan. They must limit the number of customers inside at one time and also make sure customers are spaced six feet apart. Mecklenburg County has recommended stores turn away customers who aren't wearing masks but stopped short of mandating it.
For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.
Marshall Terry: Tony, how has reopening gone so far? What are you hearing from businesses?
Tony Mecia: Marshall, I've talked a few businesses since they were permitted to reopen, and I know a lot of them are opening up and they're starting to see those customers come back in little by little. Some of them haven't quite opened up yet. Some are just still doing the curbside or the takeout service. Even some retailers are doing that. So, it's going to be, I think, a process. You know, if you've spent any time in one of the malls lately, you probably saw, there were people lined up to get into SouthPark Mall when it opened on Saturday, for example.
Not all of the stores are open yet. They're slowly coming back online. You know, some of the bigger department stores, even some of the smaller clothing stores. It's taking a little while. So, I think as we've talked about before, Marshall, this is not like flipping on a switch where everything just comes back all at once. It's going to be a gradual process over a number of weeks.
Terry: Are shopping habits the same, or has the pandemic changed what people are buying? And how much?
Mecia: Well, we know that from looking at reports and different industry studies that people are buying a lot more things, as you would expect, that relate to how they live their lives now at home. So, we're seeing a lot of changing habits and what people are buying. Grocery stores, you know, if you're trying to get yeast to make bread, that can be very difficult. The supply of meat is drying up a little bit, so there are some things that are hard to find because people are buying things in higher quantities now than they were before. I think even retailers are going to see that.
I mean, you know, we know that people have been in their houses for a number of weeks and are desperate to get back to their lifestyles like they were before. And so you're seeing a lot of people going out and shopping and, you know, maybe they have bought clothes in a month or six weeks, so maybe they don't want to do that online, but they're starting to go back and they're starting to make some of those purchases. Some of it's getting back to normal, but, you know, certainly, it's definitely shifted the sorts of things that people are buying now versus what they were buying a couple of months ago.
Terry: Are businesses in Mecklenburg heeding the county's advice and refusing customers who don't have masks?
Mecia: Well, I think some are and some aren't. I think the county would certainly like all the retailers to require that customers wear masks. I think a lot of retailers are not comfortable doing that. It's a delicate dance that they're doing. On the one hand, they don't want to discourage customers from coming in. At the same time, they want to create a safe environment where people feel like they can go in and shop and not worry as much about getting sick or contracting the virus, so you see a mix.
I talked to an owner of a guitar shop in Plaza Midwood, and he was requiring all of his customers to wear masks. All of his employees were wearing masks. He said that makes sense for a business, but I think there are a lot of businesses that are just happy to welcome whoever walks in their door.
Terry: Tony, as of this week, South Carolina restaurants are allowed to reopen their dining rooms to customers. You went to the area around the border to see if any of them are doing that. What did you find?
Mecia: Well, we're seeing the same thing we're seeing with retailers. You know, some of them are opening and some of them are not. Some of them are just sticking with the takeout. Some are making plans to open, but they're not quite there yet. There are a number of logistical things that restaurants have to do to get back online.
So, it's not that they fully reopened, but you are seeing some of them start to do that and more going to start opening up their dining rooms, I think, in the next few weeks, and they're seeing a bunch of diners coming in from South Carolina, and they're also seeing people from Charlotte across the border that have been missing out on dining out for a while that want a meal that are heading in.
Terry: Let's end on some non-coronavirus news. Charlotte Pipe and Foundry is moving from its current location just outside uptown where it's been for 100 years to Stanly County. So, what's prompting that?
Mecia: Well, you know, if you think about the development pattern around uptown, it's a lot of offices. That doesn't really make a lot of sense for a big manufacturing facility to be that close to uptown. So, you know, the development patterns would dictate that you would tend to have those more on the outskirts of town where maybe land is a little bit cheaper — that sort of thing. So, they're moving to Stanly County -- the town of Oakboro -- and they're going to build a plant there. I think it could come online by 2023. The original site there on Morehead Street has been there for about a century. They've obviously expanded it over the years, but that's a pretty big facility. It's a 55-acre plot of land -- pretty big prime spot of uptown land. You know, they say the new plant in Oakboro would employ at least about 400 employees, so it's a not-insignificant number of people.
Terry: And this site where Charlotte Pipe and Foundry is right now is a location that Panthers owner David Tepper has been eyeing for a possible new Panthers stadium.
Mecia: Well, yes, that's another really interesting point you make, Marshall, that a lot of people are very interested in, not because they're interested in what the future is of a foundry, but because this is a site that is almost across the street from the existing Panthers stadium, and so, you know, the thinking is, "Is there something that they can do here where, you know, the city or Tepper could get ahold of that land, build a new stadium there while playing in the existing stadium?"
Now ... there's obviously a lot of speculation on that. Tepper has said that it would make sense to do something like that. None of those details -- at least publicly -- have been worked out. I think it's probably reasonable to think that there's a lot going on behind the scenes. I mean, certainly, Charlotte Pipe is going to want to sell that to whoever is going to want to pay for it. I think they would certainly find some interest from Tepper and from the city. But, you know, there might be other people, too.
Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.
Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter.
What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.