COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Sunday at 12:01 a.m. some small businesses around Columbia are ordered to lock their doors and keep them shut for two weeks.
Despite some confusion after the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion saying local governments can’t enact such ordinances, Mayor Steve Benjamin reiterated Saturday the ordinance is law.
“The Attorney General’s opinion is an opinion. I would urge people to ignore the Attorney General’s opinion and follow the law,” Benjamin said.
But the law will hurt already struggling local businesses like barbershops, nail salons, art studios, and boutiques.
Margaret Neville is the owner of Mad Platter and was open until Saturday. Up until then, she was encouraging customers to pick up pieces of pottery at her store and to paint them at home.
“This is going to be very, very painful, but I don’t want to risk my employees,” Neville said. “I don’t want to risk my customers, I don’t want to risk you know, our community.”
Chris Toliver is the co-owner of Toliver’s Mane Event, a barbershop on the Northwest edge of Columbia’s city limits. Toliver was originally against the ordinance until he received a direct call from Mayor Benjamin where Benjamin explained the ordinance to him. Toliver had believed it wasn’t fair for his barbershop to close when competitors close by, but outside city lines were able to keep operating.
“If you’re going to shut down our barbershop, a person shouldn’t be able to walk across the street or down the street to get a haircut,” Toliver said.
Benjamin said he also wants Governor McMaster to issue a statewide ordinance, but he couldn’t wait to act.
“We don’t have the luxury of not doing anything,” Benjamin said. “We got to act, we act to act.”
City Council passed the ordinance with a 6-1 vote. Daniel Rickenmann was the sole no vote, and he said he didn’t support the move because he said it hurts small business. Rickenmann said he is hearing from small business owners being put out of work, but big stores like Target and Walmart are allowed to stay open to the public.
“If we are going to do it if stay home is really critical…if you are going to have a stay at home then why are we allowing all these businesses that deal with the public in mass quantities…we are not telling Walmart you need to limit customers,” Rickenmann said. He added people at larger stores can come and go as they want, but smaller shops would be able to put better social distancing measures in place.
“We are picking and choosing who stays open as essential, and people are selling the same products,” he said.
Mayor Benjamin said the businesses chosen as essential and non-essential come from a list compiled by the Department of Homeland Security. He said that the list was then adapted to fit Columbia’s needs and to be similar to Charleston’s stay-at-home ordinance.
Benjamin also said there is a grant program to help support small businesses, including those deemed non-essential, and applications for that grant go online next week on the city website.
When asked about whether this ordinance doesn’t go far enough Benjamin disagreed with the logic.
“If it’s got to be one or the other, either we start with a basic list of services that have been deemed to make sure people have access to what they need and we decide to there are other things in our community that we deem essential. Or we shut everything down. Those arguments are intellectually incompatible,” he said.
Mayor Benjamin said in two weeks he hopes to have more data as to how the coronavirus is impacting Columbia and then will be able to proceed from there with more information.