(CNN) — VaLinda Miller knew her first year as a small business owner would be hard — but not this hard.
When she opened her bookstore, Turning Page Bookshop, in Goose Creek, South Carolina, in June 2019, it was a lifelong dream fulfilled. The smell of books always reminded her of when her grandmother used to bring her to the local library in Washington, DC when she was six years old.
But three weeks ago she was forced to close her doors, after South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued a stay-at-home order for the state due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Miller said, business has dropped by 80%. But on Tuesday, the governor lifted that order, allowing nonessential businesses like hersto open again.
“Thank God and hallelujah!,”exclaimed Miller when she heard the news. “I think so many of us just want to go back to work. We’ve been home. We’ve done the best we could. But money is running out.”
South Carolina is one of seven states, including Tennessee and Georgia, that are starting to reopen their economies after they were forced to shut most businesses down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Small businesses, in particular, have been hit hard financially and thousands of business owners who applied for federal loans, like the Paycheck Protection Program, have yet to receive a dime.
For many small business owners, like Miller, the reopening has come in the nick of time.
“If it had gone one more week or just two more weeks, we really would have been in some serious trouble because my savings would have been depleted completely,” said Miller.
But navigating that process while trying to curb the spread of Covid-19 will prove challenging.
Businesses in South Carolina, for example, must adhere to a 20% occupancy limit, social distancing, and keeping their premises sanitized in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionguidelines.
On her first day back in business, Miller said she had one customer.
“I think I can weather this risk with being cautious, washing hands and wearing masks,” she said.
But some small business owners are not willing to take that risk.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp allowed businesses like gyms and hair and nail salons to reopen Friday.
But that isn’t enough for Alyson Hoag to open her doors. Hoag owns Authentic Beauty in Atlanta and can reopen under the state’s new guidelines — but she says she won’t.
“I find it very hard to believe that we’re supposed to be sheltering in place and doing social distancing, but yet I touch people’s faces for living and somehow that’s okay to do? It’s not okay,” said Hoag, who does makeup and eyebrow work.
Hoag’s business hasn’t generated any revenue since March 16. The majority of her nine employees are mothers who are the breadwinners for their families and she has not been able to pay them. Still, Hoag says she’s prioritizing their health.
“I do not want to lose this business that I’ve worked most of my life to create,” she said. “It’s hard financially, but I will find another way.”
The decision between reopening and keeping employees and the community healthy has put many business owners in a tough spot.
In Tennessee, state parks reopened on Friday while restaurants will open at 50% capacity on Monday, followed by retailers on Wednesday.
Lynn Sherrod owns the Lil Black Bear Café located at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. His business has been crushed by the closing of nearby tourist attractions and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“It’s really been devastating,” said Sherrod, who has been doing only takeout orders for the past six weeks. “This time of year is usually a really busy time for us, and right now we probably lost 90% because there’s no tourists.”
Sherrod says he is planning to take precautions when he reopens the dining area. He mainly runs the café with the help of family and some part-time seasonal workers. Diners will be seated 10 feet apart from one another and he says he’ll follow additional state and CDC guidelines.
“It’s a health thing and safety thing for myself and my family. And when I say family, my customers are considered my family as well,” he said.
As other states now consider reopening, these small business owners in this first wave of states say they don’t know if customers will follow right away. What they all agree on is business as usual will never look the same again.
“I believe that just doing this slowly but surely would get us back to where we need to be, but I think [Covid-19] is going to change everybody for the rest of their lives,” said Sherrod. “We’re going to be changed by this.”