Business owners and associations say the gradual loosening of economic restrictions imposed by the state are already showing beneficial signs but that clearer details are needed soon to limit risks to both businesses and public health.

J. Kelly Conklin, owner of Foley-Waite Associates, an architectural woodworking company, said businesses need specific, consistent instructions and public health guidance so that, for instance, they’re sure the sneeze guards they put up are the correct ones.

“We need to know that the way we reset our distances for a much-diminished, by the way, revenue stream – if you open a restaurant and you have half your tables, you’re going to do half the business,” Conklin said. “I don’t think any one of the business owners on here today knows how to sustain their business for any length of time with 50% of the revenue.”

Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, told a legislative strategy group that the state shouldn’t keep low-risk businesses closed while waiting for conditions to be safe for high-risk ones. She said urgency and action are needed now.

“We know the pain that’s out there. So now when business is going to go in and retool their facility or their business model, every penny that they spend is cherished and precious,” Siekerka said. “And they can’t spend it one time for someone to come back like the regulator and say, ‘You did a really good job but, by the way, now the prescriptive guidance is this.’”

Christina Renna, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said the need to set rules for outdoor dining is obvious.

“This weekend we saw down the Shore instances where restaurants allowed takeout,” Renna said. “But the people take their takeout, they sit at the picnic table bench with other families. Everyone is too close to each other. No one is sanitizing the space. They get up, nothing’s been sanitized, and another family sits down. That’s not safe.

“We need guidelines,” she said. “And an outdoor dining situation, where you have one waitress controlling the situation and sanitizing before, during and after service is a much more ideal situation.”

John Holub, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said the next phase of the recovery could have started sooner. His group had had a proposal before Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration for reopening stores, with safety precautions.

“We also want to have a reduced occupancy, pretty significant reduced occupancy,” Holub said. “We’re recommending as of right now, the essential retailers have a 50% occupancy. We think that is an appropriate number. We don’t want that going any lower than 20%. So anywhere between 50 and 20 I think is an acceptable number.”

Holub said an alternative threshold could be to allow up to five customers per 1,000 square feet of space.

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, said car sales in New Jersey were down by 50% in March and 70% to 80% in April but are rebounding a bit this month, now that car dealerships can open for by-appointment sales.

“It’s less than a week, but I can tell you that it is already starting to pick up. We should finish May strong, although May 2020 sales are still expected to be slightly, just slightly more than half of what they were in May 2019,” Appleton said.

“We don’t expect in this economy that all that business will come roaring back immediately. But dealers in New Jersey tell me that they think that they can get back to 70 or 80% of normal sales volume in June,” he said. “… At the end of the day, the road to economic recovery is going to be traveled by car.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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