Wave of Retailers In South Re-Open

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Norton's Car Stereo re-opens

A wave of retailers are re-opening their car audio shops in the South and select states.

Many took the plunge last week, in time to take advantage of stimulus checks.

P & E Distributors, which operates in 7 southern states said, at its worst, only about 30 percent of regional car audio shops closed, but in recent weeks that figure dropped to less than 10 percent closed.  “In the past week a lot more opened; the stimulus checks changed the game,” said Josh Eatherly.  Still, the majority of shops are operating on an appointment-only basis and doors are locked to walk-in traffic.

Freeman’s Car Stereo, NC is starting to reopen. Norton’s Car Stereo in SC reopened 3 of its 4 stores on Monday and the fourth had never closed.

Columbus Car Audio with two stores in Ohio had a soft re-opening this week.  Ten of its 41 employees were called back to work.  “We closed immediately upon the governor’s order the third week in March.  We felt this would be a short term thing and the right thing to do. Shortly into it… I discovered technically, we would be an essential business.  But since we had closed, we felt we would ride it out. But frankly, we just can’t ride it out any more,” said Columbus Car Audio Owner Todd Hays.

“It was surprisingly busy yesterday,” he added. “We had a gut feeling that may be the case.” Sales were on the level of a typical pre-pandemic day.

Only a few people are allowed in the store at once. Employees wear masks and gloves and customers are offered the same.  The waiting room and public restrooms are closed off so consumers can’t wait on their vehicles.  Disposable floor mats, steering wheel covers and gear shift covers are placed in the car and all touch points cleaned prior to working on the car and then cleaned again after.  If customers want a no-contact drop off they can get it.

Freeman’s has been operating on a limited basis with closed showrooms.  Two days ago it opened up one store in South Carolina shortly after the Governor lifted state restrictions. The chain is now slowly increasing operations, however, it’s “not completely going back to the way we were,” said CEO Dave Wall. The doors will be unlocked with a walkway to the counter.  There’s a lot of new protocols for employees: wearing PPE, store wipe downs at regular intervals and wiping down cars before and after. The floor in places is marked at 6 foot intervals.  It offers touchless pick up and drop off of vehicles.

Norton’s had closed all three of its Columbia, SC shops for two weeks as some managers and employees had minor health conditions.   The Florence, SC shop remained open and business was steady at pre-COVID levels.   Now all stores are open for business with few restrictions as the stores are large enough to hold about 8 customers at a time and still meet state COVID-19 regulations.  Jimmy Norton said, “We’ve been in business 44 years this November. I’m always amazed every day, we just continue to quietly move along and seem to find a way to do business.”

Many car audio retailers fall into a gray area of the definition of an “essential business” as they may service alcohol ignition interlocks, service fleets or perform minor auto repairs.

Many Southern states are relaxing social distancing laws.  Georgia’s Governor planned to allow many businesses to open as of today.  South Carolina is also starting to reopen and Tennessee’s stay at home order is expected to expire April 30.

However, in other states, stricter COVID-19 regulations remain in place. The Governor of Illinois just extended the state’s stay at home order until the end of May. A listing of COVID-19 laws by state can be found here.



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