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Locked-down stores, shoppers emerge in parts of Pennsylvania

MICHAEL RUBINKAM, MARK SCOLFORO and MARC LEVY
The Associated Press
About 200 protesters rally outside of the home of Gov. Tom Wolf in Mount Wolf, Saturday, May 2, 2020. Activists urge Gov. Wolf to end his stay-at-home order. Dawn J. Sagert photo

People across a swath of Pennsylvania began opening stores Friday that had been shut down since March as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted, while residents began leaving their homes unfettered by a just-expired stay-at-home order that had been in place since April 1.

Located in a primarily rural swath of northern Pennsylvania, Erie County and 23 other counties have been only lightly impacted by a pandemic that has killed more than 3,400 people statewide and are the first to have pandemic restrictions eased under Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan.

At Gerlach’s Garden & Floral in suburban Erie, the garden store and flower shop opened its doors Friday to people seeking seeds, seedlings, flowers, shrubs and more. Social-distancing markers were on the floor, plexiglass was by the register, employees were wearing masks and a huge chunk of its big selling season is past.

“Those weeks we’ve missed, those are gone, we can’t get them back, we cant make them up,” said Adam Gerlach, one of the owners. “So we’re looking to the future, looking to see what we can capitalize on a little bit more these next couple weeks.”

It helps that the flower shop is open in time for Mother’s Day on Sunday — missing Easter was a devastating hit — but Gerlach estimates that the business has lost at least 20% of its revenue for the year.

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That said, people were coming into the store, and it felt good to open up and see customers, Gerlach said.

“Letting people in definitely feels good, for people to come in and do their shopping,” Gerlach said. “So far, everyone I talked to is happy to be out and be able to go get stuff.”

Much of Pennsylvania, including its heaviest population centers, remain under Wolf’s strictest shutdown orders, called the “red” designation.

On Friday, he is expected to lift many southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including the Pittsburgh area, into the “yellow” phase, along with the two dozen counties that emerged from lockdown Friday.

The 24 counties are home to 1.5 million of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents, and is about one-third of its geographical area at about 14,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometers).

Along with retailers and other kinds of businesses that can reopen, gatherings of up to 25 people are now allowed. But gyms, barber shops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues are required to remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place, including a ban on youth sports.

The counties are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.

Republicans and some business owners have complained that Wolf is moving too slowly to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy. More than 1.9 million people, including self-employed and gig workers, have filed for unemployment since mid-March.