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York County business group bands together to reopen without state approval

The group is a grassroots network of businesses sharing information and resources for business owners who choose to open against Gov. Tom Wolf's shutdown order.
Credit: WPMT

A group of about 30 businesses are banding together to reopen in York County, which is still in yellow phase. The group, called ReOpen York PA, is a grassroots network of businesses sharing information and resources for business owners who choose to open against Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown order.

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-York Township) is one of the group’s organizers. He said he doesn’t feel beholden to follow the governor’s shutdown order because he is a member of the legislature, a separate branch of government that has the ability to check the governor’s power.

“We are three equal branches of government, so while I respect the governor, I don't answer to him. I answer to my constituents,” Jones said. “And I have to do what I believe. My conscience is clear.”

ReOpen York PA meets once a week to support businesses reopening early.

“We're providing PPE guidance for people to open if they want to safely, legal guidance, marketing and messaging to help reach their people,” said Kristin Rohr of creative agency Rohr Design and one of ReOpen York PA’s organizers.

Many businesses in the group didn’t want to identify themselves for fear of getting state penalties. Gov. Tom Wolf has threatened businesses that open against the shutdown order could face loss of their permits and licenses.

Round the Clock Diner in Manchester Township has received national media attention and multiple state citations and fines for opening its dine-in service.

Business owners should know what can—and can’t—happen should they choose to open against the shutdown order, group members said. Jones said in most cases, state agencies can’t immediately revoke a license.

“A lot of people are under the impression that the state can just come and take your license, and that is not the case,” Jones said. “There's a lot of due process involved.”

Learning the legalities of business permits and licenses was a relief for Melissa Shortino, a small business owner whose business, Melissa Shortino Body Transformation Systems, opened in January only to close in March.

“When I was able to talk to lawyers and have them explain to me what my rights are... instead of being a fear level of maybe nine, it brought me down to a one or two,” Shortino said.

ReOpen York PA also helped Bobcat Creamery in Manchester Borough, another small business hurt by COVID-19. In fact, owner Brian Klinger had already publicly announced the creamery was closing permanently.

“That was probably the toughest decision I`ve ever had to make,” Klinger said.

However, due to encouragement from the community and resources from ReOpen York PA, Klinger decided to reopen early, the only way he believed his business could survive.

“The fear factor has dropped off,” Klinger said. “I mean, people are not scared like they used to be.”

Several business owners reported they were very busy with customers.

“The community supports it,” Rohr said.

Sixteen counties go into green phase on June 5. York County will remain in yellow phase.