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On The Hill: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on What’s Keeping Shoppers From Stores

After nearly two harrowing months of widespread lockdowns, lawmakers in states across the country are announcing plans to walk back restrictions in the interest of jumpstarting local economies.

Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas last week introduced Phase One of her state’s reopening plan, which allows retailers and restaurants to open their doors to customers.

Shutting down the state to protect public health was an easy decision, she told Sourcing Journal, but flattening the curve without decimating Kansas’ economy has proven a difficult balancing act.

“By shutting down and having everybody stay at home, I knew I was taking care of public health,” she said. “But we have some realities here too: people need to work, and our businesses need to have customers.”

That reality has proven especially pressing for the state’s small businesses, which the governor said have taken a substantial hit through the shutdown. But as Kansas begins its cautious, incremental reopening, many of these businesses will help drive the formation of state-sanctioned best practices for social distancing.

Retail stores had implemented services like curbside pickup and local delivery to drive sales while their doors were closed, the governor said. Now that brick-and-mortar operations can resume, many will enforce one-way aisle traffic and limit the number of shoppers allowed inside at any given time.

So far, she added, shoppers are heading back to the stores, but not in droves. Over the past two months, many have turned to e-commerce to fulfill their needs, and that trend could continue for some time.

Fortunately for Kansas retail, though, the implementation of the CARES Act-driven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been “hugely successful,” the governor said. The state’s local banks have been “nimble” in their dealings with small businesses, and Kansas has seen 71 percent of its PPP loan applications fulfilled since the program’s inception.

As for when shoppers will return to spending with abandon, though, the governor cautioned against high hopes, saying she believes it will take time for consumer confidence to emerge. Wandering malls will not be a “Sunday afternoon leisure activity” anytime soon, she said.

Editor’s Note: Gov. Kelly is related to Kate Nishimura.

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