What's essential? Boots, fabric and check-cashing: Many stores stay open under coronavirus shelter-in-place order

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / MurMaid Mattress store manager Eric Huston stacks pieces of memory foam inside an empty showroom on Friday.

Boot Barn, JoAnn Fabrics and Check Into Cash are essential, along with car dealerships and exterminators. Meanwhile, Hobby Lobby is shutting down and MurMaid Mattress is struggling to sort out whether it can continue to do business if it moves exclusively to online ordering and pick-up.

"We're in kind of a gray area," said Roger Pickett, owner of MurMaid Mattress.

Mayor Andy Berke's shelter-in-place order that closes all 'non-essential' businesses as well as many public spaces takes effect beginning at midnight Friday, April 3. The order lasts a week, but the mayor has discretion to extend it at that point. Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has issued an order that lasts until April 14 ordering Tennesseans to shelter in place unless they are engaged in 'essential' activities.

The city is working with businesses that have questions about whether they're essential, said spokeswoman Richel Albright.

"If it's unclear based on what is in the executive order, they can work with our office and we're determining on a case-by-case basis if they're essential or not," she said.

MurMaid is manufacturing masks to donate to medical workers, and plans to close the handful of showrooms that remained open Friday in favor of providing pick-up for customers who have ordered mattresses online. But as of Friday morning, Pickett was awaiting final word from the mayor's office on just how essential his business is these days.

"I'm really trying to keep whatever revenue we can trickling in and serving customers," he said.

At JoAnn Fabrics, they'll remain open and continue churning out as many medical masks as their volunteers and customers can produce, said employee Georgia Pritchett. The store is also offering online ordering and curbside pick-up for people who want to sew masks at home, she said.

"We are certainly busy," she said. "There are people here making masks - they are volunteers and they are doing that to donate to hospitals and medical personnel who need them."

Boot Barn falls under essential services because it outfits public safety workers, said Jim Watkins, vice president of investor relations and external reporting.

"Boot Barn is an important supplier of personal protective equipment, work apparel, footwear, flame resistant apparel and work boots, including safety toe, puncture resistant, static dissipating and slip resistant boots for men and women that are often required in critical industries," he said. "There are also more than 500 businesses and government agencies that purchase their PPE needs through our commercial account program."

The store is limiting the number of customers who can be inside to 10, he added.

About the city’s shelter-in-place order

COVID Connect: connect.chattanooga.gov/covidFAQ Page: connect.chattanooga.gov/covid/covid-19-faqsExecutive Order 2020-06: connect.chattanooga.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Executive-Order-2020-06.pdf

Some golf courses in the city indicated they're temporarily impacted by the mayor's order. Friday was the last day for golf at both the Black Creek Club and Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, officials said, though restaurants at the two facilities remain open for curbside pickup and delivery.

Both the Capital Toyota and Economy Honda dealerships said they also are remaining open. Check Into Cash will also remain open as a financial services provider, though it is limiting the number of people allowed in the store and curtailing hours.

At Rick Davis Gold and Diamonds, their work trading gold, silver and diamonds as well as their services wiring money make them an essential business, owner Rick Davis said.

"The main thing that keeps us open is the fact that we do money transfers, wire transfer, Western Union," he said. "If someone has 100 ounces of silver and needs money to make a house payment, we'll wire transfer the money into their account."

Those trading and financial services are nearly all of his business at the moment, Davis said.

"Jewelry is a luxury, and there's not money around for luxury items right now," he said.

Colyn Shirley, who owns the Once Upon a Child clothing store in East Brainerd, said he's having to temporarily close the business after the mayor's order. The shutdown will cause a hardship, he said, noting the store has eight employees.

"I'm not sure I've ever experienced anything like this in my life," the business owner said, adding there's "a lot of trepidation and a lot of worry of what's going to come down the line."

Staff writer Mike Pare contributed to this story.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.