Early spring usually heralds one of the busiest times of the year in Aiken. Crowds of tourists pack downtown shops after flocking to nearby hotels for the Masters and Spring Steeplechase; locals come out to enjoy the warm weather and spend some time in the sun.
This year, the normally bustling sidewalks of Laurens Street are deserted. Most shops are closed, and the city is quiet.
Many local businesses began shutting their doors after S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order closing dine-in options at restaurants and other places considered high-risk for contracting the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus, like gyms and movie theaters. Other businesses closed voluntarily as a precaution, while some began limiting the number of customers that could enter at one time.
Tucked away behind a desk and mounds of clothing racks and Easter decorations in Pitter Patter Children's Boutique, Catherine Gouge works in one of the last nonessential businesses still open in downtown Aiken.
But with a new executive order going into effect on Monday that will close more nonessential businesses, Gouge's family will be shutting down their storefront as well.
McMaster stopped short of mandating a statewide shelter-in-place order on Friday when he issued a series of new business closings. According to McMaster, this was due to "reports of non-compliance" with efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
South Carolina coronavirus cases reached 2,049 by Sunday. The virus has spread to every county in the state, and 44 people (including one Aiken County resident) have died.
"We figured it was coming when they started closing other things," Gouge said on Saturday. "We want to be very sensitive, and we want people to be safe, especially since we have the kids' side of the store."
Gouge said Pitter Patter, which her family owns, usually does lots of business this time of year. Gouge said they have been limiting the number of people who can enter their store at one time and are doing much of their business through online shopping.
Although they expected the closure to come, it was still a bit of a blow.
"It's a kind of take-your-breath-away moment when you see it," Gouge said. "It's a little scary. March and April are really busy months with Steeplechase, Easter and the Masters. So it was a little bit of a shock."
Despite the decreased flow of business through their storefront, Gouge said what she and her family most want is for people to be safe.
Like any good business, they'll do their best to roll with the punches.
"We're on plan C, and when that doesn't work out, we're on to plan D," Gouge said.
Across the street, Lionel Smith Ltd. is another business bracing for the closures going into effect on Monday.
"We're going to do more online stuff, more FaceTime stuff, more virtual shopping," said Van Smith, shop owner.
Despite their virtual business options, Smith said the outlook for their profit this month is bleak; this month, if they make 10% of what they made April 2019, it would be a "good month."
"To be honest with you, there isn't any adapting to this," Smith said. "This is real tough, real tough to think about what business is going to be like. Even if we started business next week, it wouldn't be great."
Despite the uncertain times ahead, Smith is hopeful that Aikenites will pull together and support each other through any potential economic hardship.
"Support local businesses all that you can," Smith said. "And have some empathy for each other."