As businesses reopen, some customers may face ‘sticker shock’

Already buffeted by disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, some residents venturing out to test the waters of the slowly reopening local economy may face another surprise: sticker shock.

A number of businesses, after weeks of either being shut down or operating at a reduced level to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease, are trying to recoup some of those losses and offset their added expenses by either bumping up prices or adding flat fees.

But the practice is far from universal.

In other states that started reopening their economies earlier than Kentucky, reports abound of hair salons, dentists and restaurants adding COVID-19 surcharges to bills.

But, in the Bowling Green area, such extra charges don’t yet seem to be prevalent – or particularly resented by customers.

“We’re not trying to profit off of it,” said House of Harper hair salon owner Kristin Harper, who added a $5 fee to her business’ prices as she reopened last week. “We added a service charge to each client, but they’re all very understanding.”

Harper was up front about the charge, including it in a list of new procedures she posted on social media to let her clients know what to expect. She was also candid about the precautions she was taking to keep clients safe, including disinfecting regularly and providing masks.

“We were able to explain everything to them (customers), so they don’t come in not knowing what to expect,” Harper said. “I’ve heard about salons in Georgia and other areas where clients were getting upset when the charge was added. I haven’t had that experience. We’re just trying to make sure we cover our expenses.”

Paul Nguyen of Bowling Green’s Super Nails had a similar rationale for adding $2 to each service at his nail salon.

Super Nails has installed plexiglass dividers, reduced the number of chairs and purchased face shields and masks to comply with state mandates.

“He added the two-dollar service charge, and I don’t think that pays for everything,” said Joan Pendley, a local Realtor who is familiar with the Super Nails operation. “Until they lift some of the (state) restrictions, they’re only doing about a third of what they were doing.”

It’s a similar story at Lisa’s 5th Street Diner in downtown Bowling Green, where owner Lisa Parker has kept the business going with takeout orders and is now operating the restaurant at roughly 33 percent of its capacity to comply with state mandates.

Despite the restrictions, Parker has added a hostess and an extra person on the floor to enforce the social distancing and prevent people from congregating at the cash register.

“We had to go up on our prices,” Parker said. “We’re still doing a lot of to-go orders, and that comes with added expense. But sales have actually been good. I have been amazed at the amount of to-go orders we do every day.”

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