GRASONVILLE — Owners of more than a dozen businesses from Kent Island to Ocean City called on Gov. Larry Hogan to further ease restrictions that would allow them to return to operating closer to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Owners of businesses in the wedding industry, hotels, Ocean City amusement parks and arcades, gyms and restaurants said data is showing that the state is winning the war against the pandemic. Attention must now be paid, they said, to ensuring that hundreds of small businesses aren’t counted among the casualties.
“Every day we are losing weddings,” said Doug Marshall, owner of Kylan Barn in Delmar.
A year ago, the wedding venue had 80 events. So far this year, they have had zero, Marshall said.
“It’s a problem,” said Marshall, who has laid off all of his employees. “We can’t get open, but you can set up a tent (in Delaware) 200 yards from us.’
Marshall said his operation is losing bookings every day as some are opting to hold their events in nearby Delaware.
Hogan has faced a number of protests, many from those on his end of the political spectrum, calling for quicker reopening of the state. Residents and business operators in rural areas of the state — Republican strongholds — are also applying pressure, pointing to the fact that their areas have been some of the least affected in Maryland.
Dereck Janes, general manager of the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club, said the lack of a certain opening date is costing his popular wedding destination business. If his venue is not able to open soon, “we will have lost everything we have worked for,” he said.
Last month, Ocean City began to open up the boardwalk and beaches and some hotels, but Antoinette Bruno, president of Trimper Rides and Amusements, said her facilities remain dark.
“We are safe and ready to open,” said Bruno.
In the weeks since the state ordered businesses to close, Bruno’s amusement facility has prepared for the day it could open, cutting 43 rides to 29 and expanding walkways in their 103,000-square-foot facility as well as instituting ticketless rides and gaming systems.
“We are ready to go back,’ said Bruno, directing her words to Hogan. “We need your help to stay in business.”
Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore, said he hoped Hogan would hear some of the “innovative ideas” from business owners and ease additional restrictions.
Most businesses were ordered to close or, as in the case of restaurants, convert their dine-in business models to carryout nearly three months ago. Hogan, a Republican who often cites his small business background, ordered the closures as part of a number of efforts to mitigate the spread of the upper respiratory illness that has sickened more than 58,400 people and claimed the lives of more than 2,600.
Hogan’s efforts appear to have largely averted dire projections of hundreds of thousands in the state who could fall ill and tens of thousands who could have died.
Last week, the governor announced that the state’s 24 jurisdictions could, with local government approval, begin to move into some portions of his phase two recovery plan. The phases announced last week did not include indoor seating, though many restaurants are allowed to have limited outdoor dining.
And while jurisdictions such as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and Baltimore city have opened more slowly than Hogan has allowed, jurisdictions cannot ease restrictions beyond those the governor has lifted.
Last week, Hogan warned that even as hospitalizations and other metrics trend in the right directions, the virus has not been eradicated. The governor warned that continued vigilance was needed.