By David Loomis
INDIANA – In Washington, the president asserted “total” authority over how and when to restart a flattened U.S. economy flirting with Great Depression-scale unemployment. In state capitals, gubernatorial scoffing was gratifyingly bipartisan.
In Pennsylvania, U.S. senators Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Bob Casey, a Democrat, split on the issue whipped up by the White House as another trademark distraction.
“Let’s act like adults, listen to the experts, and then make a concerned, informed judgment … based upon science,” Casey said.
Toomey countered that the economy can’t wait.
“Younger and healthier people with some reasonable precautions really could go back to work quite safely, and that’s absolutely necessary,” Toomey asserted.
He suggested that less-affected places like Indiana County can get back to work sooner.
Indiana restaurateur Tony DeLoreto, Pittman’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election, opposed the bill.
“What is a dollar worth if you don’t have your health?” he asked supporters in an April 16 email.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf pledged a veto.
WHAT SAY SMALL businesses in downtown Indiana during a midday Friday spot check?
Owner Ken DeHaven stepped out of the front door to his new shop on Sixth Street a half block north of Philadelphia, a few doors down from a shuttered restaurant with a for-sale sandwich board out front.
In DeHaven’s storefront window, a hand-lettered sign announced his Seasons Chains bicycle shop was “opening soon.”
In fact, DeHaven said, he opened in mid-March. But the governor’s list of essential and non-essential businesses left him in limbo. Bicycle repair and maintenance were essential, but sales were not.
DeHaven was open by appointment only.
“It’s more socially appropriate,” he said.
As he spoke, a woman and an adolescent boy emerged, thanked DeHaven and wheeled a fat-tired Giant mountain bike to a car at the curb out front.
IN THE 600 BLOCK of Philadelphia Street at 7th Street Marketry, owner Christina R. Nicoll held the front door ajar, unmasked. A sign on the door read, “Shut.”
She had just spent two months moving to a new shop a half block east of her previous central-business-district address. Then came the pandemic and its mandatory closures.
The business was deemed non-essential. At home were two unemployed adults and four children.
Nicoll applied for federal small-business relief. On Thursday, the Small Business Administration sent an email cutting off new applications. On Friday, a week had passed without word about hers.
“Did that money go to big business?” she asked. “And we’re left to pick up the crumbs?”
Nicoll said she was conflicted, and not just about reopening the shop during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a lot more hype than necessary,” she said. “But I don’t think it isn’t necessary.”
She said she wants to reopen as soon as possible, with precautions – social distancing, hand sanitizing and so on.
“It all comes down to personal choice,” Nicoll said. “People come in of their own free will. They take that risk. But I take that risk, too.”
“I really don’t have an adequate answer one way or another,” she laughed apologetically. “I’m on the fence.”
JIM DUNCAN, manager of Luxenberg’s Jewelers, unlocked the front door to the 104-year-old Philadelphia Street landmark. Lights were out, display cases dark, glitter muted.
From behind a surgical mask, sanitary wipes at hand, Duncan reported he had admitted four customers who had called that day for service appointments — like changing a watch battery, cleaning a tea set, picking up an engagement ring – at the otherwise non-essential business.
“We’re officially locked,” Duncan said.
When would you reopen? Duncan advised caution, weighing profit and public health.
“It’s no joke that we have the virus here,” he said. “It’s also no joke to shut down the American economy.”
Duncan recommended a gradual phase-in and close monitoring.
“We’ve got to watch what we are doing,” he said. “We’ve got to beware of another jump. There’s no vaccine. That’s a big problem.”
But Luxenberg’s has been through this before, Duncan said.
“We survived the 1918 pandemic,” he noted. “There’s a lot of people in Oakland Cemetery with 1918 on their headstones.”
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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