Mark Burton thought he might have to shut down Valhalla’s Gate Games after the city and county issued stay-at-home orders in reaction to COVID-19 that took effect Wednesday.

But after reaching out to officials at the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, he said he may be able to safely distribute his non-electronic games over the phone and through contactless delivery.

Under the orders announced Tuesday, residents are required to stay in their homes unless they are engaging in essential business or activities. The order allows essential businesses such as health care providers, grocery stores, restaurants and mechanics, among others, to keep running. It requires non-essential businesses to cease operations or to reduce them to minimum services.

Basic operations include “maintaining the value of inventory and infrastructure, providing security, processing payroll or employee benefits, or facilitating employees working remotely,” Health Department Spokesperson Lucio Bitoy said.

Business owners can email coronavirus@como.gov to learn whether their businesses are considered essential, according to previous Missourian reporting. Owners can also fill out a form on the city’s website to determine their business’ standing.

And, like Burton, plenty have done so. As of Wednesday afternoon, the city had received 73 emails and 87 phone inquiries, and the general call center received 125 phone calls after the announcement of the stay-at-home orders, Bitoy said.

Because everyone is staying home, Burton said, people tend to turn to games for entertainment. Still, his business has slowed. He said he is frustrated that big-box competitors such as Walmart and Target can keep selling games because they also sell essential items such as food and medicine.

Burton asked residents in a Facebook message whether people would feel safe receiving contactless game deliveries. A majority of the 142 people who had responded by Thursday said yes. He will turn to that option if he gets a clear go-ahead from health officials.

Burton decided Sunday to lay off his staff when he changed operations to curbside only. He said he’ll continue to pay them through the end of March. He hopes a delivery option would allow him to bring some workers back.

Some other businesses have turned to different methods since the orders took effect. Yellow Dog Bookshop changed its operations to shipping only Wednesday, according to its Facebook page.

Others learned they were considered essential businesses after calling health officials. Sarah Ashman, Walt’s Bike shop store manager, called the Health Department because the order’s language wasn’t clear to her.

Columbia and Boone County are following suit with other areas in the country. Bike repair shops are deemed essential because some people rely on bikes for transportation. Walt’s will continue to operate curbside. Staff will make sales over the phone, and people can drop off and picked up their bikes for repairs.

Ashman said a few people have come to the shop for repairs or to buy minor parts, but business has been slow.

That’s a problem because spring is to bike shops what the holiday season is for many other businesses. Ashman said the timing of the pandemic will greatly effect the shop’s annual sales.

Still, she said, “the health crisis is bigger than one bike season.”

Burton agreed that community health supersedes profits. He said he’d close his doors if there were no safe ways to keep his business running.

“There’s a lot of stress about keeping our business alive and keeping everything going,” he said. “But we don’t want to ever have anybody lose sight of the fact that the sheltering in place and social distancing and everything going on is critically important.”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Public Life reporter, fall 2019. I am studying investigative journalism. Reach me at srrhgp@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

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