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As Wolf Maintains Lockdowns, Businesses Quietly Reopen



With Pennsylvania on the down swing of the coronavirus nightmare, pressure grows on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to ease lockdowns in Bucks County. The county commissioners have pleaded for it. So have small businesses.

Wolf is barely budging. With vague promises of relief, he keeps us in the red zone, as if our pandemic situation hasn't changed since the dark days of mid-April, when new cases and deaths spiked higher and higher.

Now they're declining, and there's virtually no virus spreading in the general community. It's confined mostly to nursing homes, according to the county health department.

Yet, as Gov. Wolf threatens, call us names and lectures us not to take day trips to the Jersey Shore, it's clear this Memorial Day weekend he's losing his vice-like grip on us. Dozens of small businesses, which Wolf shut after declaring them “nonessential,” have quietly reopened throughout the county. After today, the unofficial start of the summer season, bet that more will jump into the rebel waters of civil disobedience.

“It was time to do it,” said Tom Coates who, with wife Jessica, owns Transcend Fitness in Wrightstown. “We abided by the initial orders to close for two weeks. Then it became a month.”

It was unclear when Wolf would permit reopening. The uncertainty frustrated the Coates, who spent 10 years building their private gym.

“We have three young boys. We employ between 12 and 15 people, also with families. We were a week or so from closing up for good. So we just made the decision to reopen,” Coates said.

Other reopened mom-and-pops told me the same. Wolf's indefinite lockdown would drive them to ruin. If they are going to go down, might as well go down fighting. So they went back to work, while following social distancing guidelines. Masks, gloves, hand santizer and regular deep cleans are now normal business practice.

“We're all adults here,” Coates said. “We can handle ourselves. We take all the precautions. This is no political stunt. We have no political agenda. This is survival. The governor botched this one.”

Among the first businesses to reopen in Bucks County is the Trump Store in Bensalem, seller of Trump gear for the upcoming presidential election. Owner Mike Domanico closed the place in March as coronavirus cases and deaths spiked.

“We abided the governor's order. His original goal was ‘flatten the curve,' and I totally agreed that everyone should do their part,” Domanico said, standing in his store near an inflatable Donald Trump pool float. Four weeks later, Domanico sensed Gov. Wolf wasn't moving the county from the “red” to “yellow,” even turning down a plea from the Democrat-controlled county commissioners.

“The protests started. These are small businesses who never protested anything ever, and they were out in the street,” he said.

The governor engaged in covid creep.

“The goalpost was ‘flatten the curve.' Then he moved it to a certain number of new cases, which if you do the math, you can't tell when we'll reopen. Now it's we can't return to normal until there's a cure. He keeps changing the criteria. It's numbers of cases, then it's ‘hot spots,' it's this, it's that. It's ridiculous. And now he said we won't get back to normal until there's a cure? What if there's never a cure?”

Feeling the governor is unreasonable and a threat to his livelihood, he opened his shop.

“People got to make a living,” Domanico said. “You don't let people work, you get suicides, drug overdoses, alcoholism, domestic violence, depression. You're causing just as much damage to human life as the virus. Does he know that?”

Small boutiques, shops and salons are better suited for social distancing, he said.

“We got Home Depot and Target and Walmart and they have hundreds of people in those stores,” he said. “Small businesses can be open and operate safely with social distancing. We're actually safer than those places because I can have just two people in here at a time.

“I was hoping that everybody would follow my lead. They can't shut everybody down. They just couldn't do it. Can you imagine the public backlash of killing off all those businesses? All of the customers who love this place or that one, who are friends with the owner? Who work for a small business?”

Still, he said, fear pervades and his sales remain down from what they were.

“I'm doing about 30% of what I was, but I'm glad to be open and doing something,” he said. “I can pay my rent and my bills with that.”

And if he's ratted out by a snitch?

“You know, I've thought about that and I'm not shutting down,” he said. “There are other businesses around the state and around the country that have gotten orders to close, and they're still open. If they order me to close, I really don't know what happens next. The DA has asked the (local) police not to hassle businesses. Let the state come in and enforce its rules. I'm not sure how many people will give in, though.”

Message to Gov. Wolf: You can only govern with the consent of the governed.

Columnist JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or at [email protected].

© Copyright 2020 The Intelligencer, All Rights Reserved.

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