Now that New Jersey is in the personal protective equipment business, some lawmakers want the state to play a middleman role of sorts in hooking up mom-and-pop shops with that type of gear.

At a Tuesday online hearing of the Senate Fiscal Recovery Strategists, in which lawmakers are hearing testimony about the reopening of the economy after coronavirus shutdowns, one recurring theme was the challenge businesses have in finding and affording PPE.

John Holub, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said availability of PPE will be one of the keys to consumer confidence.

“People need to feel safe,” Holub said. “They’re going to want to walk in and see employees with masks on. They want to have little stations where there’s sanitizer available, things like that.”

Frank Rizzieri, chief executive officer of the Rizzieri Group of salons and spas, which has three locations in South Jersey and one in Orlando, Florida, said “sanitation and PPE prices have skyrocketed, and many have become unavailable.” He said PPE costs now amount to $5.40 per guest.

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said smaller businesses might not be able to secure the PPE at all.

“Perhaps some smaller mom and pop shops, especially those that are neighborhood barber shops, neighborhood beauty salons that are sole proprietors or partnerships, they don’t have that same wherewithal to be able to do it,” Singleton said. “There’s a place there for the state to fill that gap because that is going to be a huge problem as we continue forward.”

Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said there should be a way for small businesses to piggyback onto the procurement contracts, or at least the research, that the state has done since March.

“They have done a great job of vetting out vendors from all over the country, all over the world who tried to supply PPE,” Sarlo said. “So we believe we need to continue to not only just provide a database, but we need to do better than that. We need to provide a portal where they vet and we have state contracts available – not that the state’s going to put the money out.”

The state has created a PPE Supplier Registry on which wholesale suppliers can submit details on the masks, gowns, sanitizer and COVID-19 test kits they have available for purchase by hospitals, medical organizations and private businesses. More than 1,000 businesses have registered.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.