Oil City businesses getting back on track

As some businesses in Oil City emerged Friday from Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown orders, it was evident each had been affected differently by developments the past several weeks.

“Of course, I’m happy to be open again,” Tom Friedhaber, co-owner of Friedhaber’s appliance store on East First Street, said. “Fortunately, we didn’t take as hard of a hit as many. But we are 25% to 30% off, which is quite a blow,” he added.

Friedhaber explained that his business was allowed to remain open for parts and service only.

The store was completely open Friday and customers could go inside with the stipulation there are no more than 25 people in the store and that everyone wears a mask, Friedhaber said.

“It’s hard to fathom what we have all been through and what may still be to come,” Friedhaber said.

“It’s good to err on the side of caution. It’s a tough call to make. I think some counties could have opened sooner,” Friedhaber said.

Across the street, Denny Clifford, owner of Clifford’s Carpets, Waterbeds and Area Rug Outlet, said he was reopening cautiously.

The carpet store fell into the non-essential business category and has been shuttered since mid-March.

“We’re way behind. Rent and insurance keep needing to be paid. I miss day to day interaction with customers,” Clifford said.

Clifford explained that late winter into spring when people get their tax returns is when his business is the busiest.

“People fix up the inside of their houses during the winter and want new carpet. Once summer hits they do more outdoor work,” he said.

Though Clifford has been shut down during what is typically his busiest season, he noted that the need for new carpet is still there.

He also said he had gotten several calls asking if he would be open Friday, which he was.

Some jobs were put on hold due to the virus, Clifford said.

His installers began work again last Friday when small construction was allowed to begin.

“Customers didn’t want anyone in their house and I don’t blame them,” Clifford said.

He added that as installers start their work again they want to be safe, wear masks and keep their distance from everyone.

“This has been handled well so far,” Clifford said. “I don’t think the virus is miraculously going to skip over this region. I think we will be seeing what they are seeing in other parts of the country here,” he added.

Across town on the North Side, preparations were underway to reopen at the Collect 76 collectibles shop.

Owner Anthony Moore said he is waiting for new products to come in before reopening. The plan is to open Friday, he said.

“It’s hard to get new stuff, many suppliers were not open,” Moore said.

The owner said the only money coming in during the shutdown was from a few online sales.

In the meantime, Moore has been dusting and wiping down the whole store.

“It’s been tough. I’ve had enough money to get through,” he said.

Moore said he was also furloughed from his other job at Webco about a month ago.

“It’s been a little stressful,” he said with a smile. He said the shutdown was the right thing to do and a necessary evil that hurt businesses.

“It wasn’t perfect, but you can’t plan for things like this,” he said.

Moore said he has been keeping in touch with customers over Facebook.

“The customers are great. They have been very supportive,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back open.”

In contrast, Agway on North Seneca Street was busy as ever Friday. The store was deemed essential because it sells animal feed, owner Doug Eberle said.

“Spring is normally busy. There has not been much effect (of the shutdown and virus),” Eberle said. “This (the pandemic) was new to everyone. I don’t know if it (the shutdown) was right or wrong,” he added.

Getting supplies has been “tricky,” Eberle said, especially when the new stock is coming from Canada. The business had received its spring wares well in advance before the virus hit, he added.

He also said there has been more interest in gardening than normal. Suppliers have sold out of seeds and onion sets, which is unusual, Eberle said.

“I feel bad for all the businesses that had to shut down,” he said.