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St. Charles cautiously begins to reopen; many wait

ST. CHARLES (AP) — Ray Nash fought in two wars and survived cancer, so he’s not going to let the coronavirus keep him from his favorite bar.

Nash was among eight patrons gathered at Tuner’s on Main Street in St. Charles about midday Monday. It was the first day nonessential Missouri businesses were allowed to reopen after Gov. Mike Parson’s nearly month-long shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Re-opening Day,” as one merchant called it, was relatively quiet in St. Charles. Crowds were sparse at most stores. Some restaurants and shops remained closed, and some that were open had signs in windows urging patrons to wear masks and keep their distance.

Tuner’s was an exception, with patrons swapping tall tales and playful jibes just as they did before the bar closed nearly two months ago.

Nash, 76, who served in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm, endured chemotherapy and radiation after tumors were discovered on his neck and tongue in 2018. He’s fine now, he said, and waved off any concern about reuniting with his friends during the pandemic.

“After kicking cancer, no, I’m not nervous,” Nash said.

Stay-at-home orders remain in effect in St. Louis city and county, which combined account for more than half of the state’s 8,754 confirmed cases and about two-thirds of the 358 deaths. Businesses most everywhere else, including neighboring St. Charles County, reopened, although an abundance of caution was evident.

Parson toured several businesses in southwestern Missouri on Monday and said, during an afternoon news conference, that he was encouraged to see the economy getting get back on its feet.

“We are on the right track,” Parson said. “It is encouraging to see businesses safely reopening and abiding by the guidelines, and we must continue to prioritize health and safety of our families, friends and fellow Missourians throughout this process.”

At one St. Charles shop, a woman without any facial protection yelled through an open door, “Can I come in?” A worker yelled back, “Go buy a mask first.”

Another shopper, Kelley Westgate, 72, did wear a mask as she strolled Main Street, admitting to a little nervousness about being out in public. Still, she was on a mission with her mother, 99, in mind.

“I came down here because it’s Mother’s Day coming up and my mom loves chocolate,” Westgate said.

An hour after opening, just a couple of shoppers had visited the Glass Work Bench, which specializes in handcrafted stained glass and other glass products. Owner Jean Dryden said she was not sure if or when things would return to normal.

Amy Senter has similar worries. She was allowing just one or two people into her store, Jake’s on Main, at a time. She was being extra cautious because a sneeze guard she ordered for the cashier area hasn’t arrived yet.

“My employees are mostly teenage kids, and their parents want something to protect them,” Senter said.

Senter has been selling her goods through Facebook since the shutdown began, personally delivering purchases to customers’ homes or letting them pick up at curbside.

She figures that may be part of the new normal.

“There’s going to have to be a different way of doing business, that’s for sure,” Senter said.

Some businesses aren’t ready to reopen. The Crooked Tree Coffee House, a few blocks off Main Street, has been closed since March 15. Owner Stein Hunter used the downtime for some long-planned remodeling.

He’s eager to open again but thinks it’s just too soon, so he’s waiting a week.

“Fools rush in,” Hunter said. “I wish we could make it all just right, but it’s not going to be the same for a long, long time and when it is, I think we’ll appreciate it more. But now is the time for caution.”

At Tuner’s bar, caution was evident; Patrons kept a safe distance apart. Otherwise, it looked like a normal day, bartender Craig Anderson, 49, said.

“I thought it would be a little slow to begin with, but I think that with people being cooped up six or seven weeks with no place to go, they were just eager to get out,” Anderson said.

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