Oakmont, Verona business owners still allowed to be open doing what they can during pandemic - Plum

Oakmont, Verona business owners still allowed to be open doing what they can during pandemic

Thursday, March 19, 2020 | 11:56 PM

Verona and Oakmont chamber of commerce officials said businesses in both boroughs are doing their best to survive and comply with all safety regulations in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is new territory for all of us,” said Karen DeTurk, Oakmont chamber director. “We don’t really quite know what to expect. Hopefully it won’t get worse. I just pray that it goes through quickly and doesn’t cause our businesses to close permanently.”

Gov Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses in the state to close Thursday night to slow the spread of covid-19.

Grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, beer distributors, bakeries and auto parts stores are among those businesses permitted to stay open.

“I think everybody’s basically battening down and doing the best they can,” said Kevin Ewing, Verona chamber president. “A lot of people still have to make ends meet. I think our government is doing the best they can. I just hope (the businesses) adhere to what they’re saying. Everyday it changes, so make the decision on the information in front of you.”

Both chambers canceled meetings and networking events this month.

Verona’s April Easter Egg Hunt was also canceled.

The Oakmont chamber office is closed. DeTurk’s handling chamber business from home.

She said the June 6 Arts and Libations Crawl and the July 25 Summer Street Sale have yet to be canceled.

Multiple businesses in both communities either reduced hours or closed prior to governor’s latest order.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can with the resources we have,” DeTurk said. “We want to see how this all plans out.”

Clothing and clothing accessory stores are on the state’s list of businesses to close.

Carabella in Oakmont would fall under that category. However, owner Carol Kinkela hopes to at least maintain some operation via mail.

The state lists “electronic shopping and mail-order houses” as retailers permitted to continue operations.

“I certainly don’t want to go against the law,” Kinkela said. “We are very happy to do our part to flatten the curve (of this outbreak). We are all in this together. You just don’t want any body to get sick.”

She said customers were prohibited from entering her shop along Allegheny River Boulevard since March 16.

Oakmont restaurants The Lot, Carnivores and The Pub at 333 remain closed until further notice.

They were also shut down March 16 by owner John Keefe, who declined an interview. Food at those establishments were donated to the workers to help their families.

Brian Eaton, chairman of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, said they are in the process of sending out messages to its 34 member breweries in Allegheny County about the governor’s latest regulations.

The message is to stay open provided breweries practice social distancing, limit customer interaction and only offer delivery, drive-through and to-go sales.

Inner Groove Brewing in Verona is part of the guild. One of its owners, Jen Walzer, is on the board.

She said customers are not allowed inside, and staffers with gloves on serve beverages in 32-ounce growlers curbside.

Payments also were altered to minimize customer interactions.

“They can either call in with a credit card number and we can run (it) right from the phone, and we have an app that they can use,” Walzer said. “When they pull up to the building they’re able to start a tab and pay for a tab right on their phone so they don’t have to touch anything. We’ll do this for a while. Inside’s shut down. There’s no on-premise alcohol consumption.”

Chris Zebert, 37, of Verona was one of the curbside customers Thursday.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said. “They’re really taking it seriously. They’re wearing gloves. I see them sanitizing all the time when bringing stuff out. At least it’s keeping the doors open for them. It is a little crazy, but better safe than sorry.”

Bakeries are also on the state’s list of businesses to continue operations.

Oakmont Bakery owner Marc Serrao said the dining area was closed, and staffers and customers have been practicing social distancing. He said daily business has gone down 40%.

“Our business is down quite a bit,” Serrao said. “We’re not having the crowd like we’ve normally have. (Our managers) ask people to remember to keep social distancing. Our main goal is to keep our employees employed right now. It’s pretty complicated being open now.”

About 25% of the bakery staff is either on vacation or otherwise not working due to conronavirus concerns.

Serrao said there has been an increase in bread and roll purchases. However, half of birthday cake orders and special occasion cakes were canceled along with three wedding cake orders.

The Serrao family also owns the Oaks Theater along Allegheny River Boulevard in Oakmont. The entertainment venue is closed through at least the end of the month.