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Free PPEs prepare merchants to reopen

ST. LOUIS – In another time, Stephanie Wingfield planned to open a hair salon in The Grove in the first week of April. Then came the orders to close all businesses, and her plans changed.

That delayed ambition became a reality on Monday, when the city started the first phase of its plans to reopen businesses in the city. But before she opened her doors for the first time, Wingfield headed over to 3115 S. Grand Blvd. to pick up a vital part of any business opening in the days of COVID-19.

That address was one of three locations in the city where qualifying small businesses could get free packs of masks and gloves they needed to safely open up again.

Her free pack of personal protective equipment in hand, Wingfield described how she would keep everybody free from the much-feared disease. 

“We’re all in a loft space,” Wingfield said. “There’s nobody that’s going to be interacting with my customers except for me. It’s a one-on-one space. We wish that we would be waiting a little bit longer before we start. Unfortunately, if I don’t start now, my unemployment’s going to go off.” 

In her first week, Wingfield is preparing by doing just her family’s hair. 

“My second week is when I’m going to introduce my paying clients to my gloves and my masks, and taking 30-minute sanitation periods in between each client,” Wingfield said. “We don’t have a waiting room any more. No, I have to text my people to come in.”

Rachel Witt, Executive director of South Grand Community Improvement District
Wingfield and others got their packs from Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. She sat at a table and gave them out to people who had registered and came in to get the items from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 14, 15 and Monday.

More than 300 people signed up to come in and pick up the personal protective equipment, Witt said.

“We’ve been averaging about 70 or 80 people a day,” she said. 

Rob Carey
Those include Rob Carey, who came in for a business called The Bed Guy, a mattress business with stores at 6431 Hampton Ave. and 4666 McRee Ave.

“We’ve been down for seven weeks,” said Carey, who came in a vehicle covered with the name of his business. “I filed for unemployment and tried to get what we could.” His wife also had to try a couple of times to file before she succeeded.

“I noticed a lot of mattress stores that never ever closed,” Carey said. “I’d drive by. It seemed kind of odd to me. I want to do the right thing, I guess.”

Niccole Eye
While Carey picked up items for one business, Niccole Eye got them for businesses run by her husband, Jon Eye, and her father, Ron Ohlmeyer. Jon Eye owns Kinetic Motors, a repair shop for BMWs and other vehicles, and Ohlemeyer owns the Golden Kiln, a ceramics and arts and crafts store.

“My husband’s automotive business has been stable enough to make it through the shutdown,” Niccole Eye said. Ron Ohlemeyer’s didn’t and had to close. 

“[Ohlemeyer] did OK. He had enough in life savings and stuff to help get him through, but I don’t know how much longer it would have sustained,” Niccole Eye said.

Rob Connoley also had to close. He’s the owner of Bulrush Restaurant in the Grand Arts District. 

“We initially turned to carryout, and then after a couple of weeks decided it wasn’t safe for our staffing, so we shut down,” Connoley said, as he carried out his personal protection items. 

The restaurant was fortunate enough to get Payroll Protection Program loans to cover pay through the end of the month.

“So as of today, we’re gearing up to open this week for carryout again,” he said. “We’re still not ready for sit down just yet.”

Like everybody who got the personal protection material on Monday on South Grand, Connoley is ready to get back into business.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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