New FGCU program hopes to reassure the public that it's safe to go out and shop

Posted at 8:57 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 20:57:07-04

LEE COUNTY — Most companies in Southwest Florida are back open now, but business is far from booming.

Many people still don’t feel comfortable coming out to shop, but professors at FGCU said, they have a solution.

The university revealed its new program Tuesday, called Restart Southwest Florida. The goal is to hold businesses in our community to a high cleanliness standard, which they hope will make people feel safe coming out to shop. Several businesses are already jumping on board.

We stopped by Severe Beauty, a salon in Fort Myers. Owner Ivane Severe said before the pandemic hit, her business was a success story.

“We were supposed to celebrate our five year anniversary April 1st, but we started to be quarantined, so we couldn’t do anything," said Severe.

Like many small businesses, Severe applied for assistance, but ran into trouble.

“Every time I go online, it would reject me. It would say pending. It would say this site is not up right now," said Severe.

Dr. Chris Westley at FGCU said Severe’s story is not unusual.

“Unemployment skyrocketed in southwest Florida, while unemployment payments, especially in this state, were slow to materialize, and federal stimulus dollars are still being distributed," said Westley.

Without that money, Severe had to put on her mask and get back to work, but she’s not seeing as many customers as she used to. That’s where FGCU’s new program comes in.

“The way that we’re trying to help is to try to encourage customers to feel comfortable to come back into the market again," said Westley.

The university is asking businesses to take a pledge to follow CDC guidelines and take part in two online discussions with experts.

“I’m excited to take the class, because I really want to know more about how to keep the community clean, how to keep my salon clean, and how to keep the clients clean and safe," said Severe.

In return, Severe and other business owners will get a sign representing that they take the pandemic seriously.

"The sign will represent that I’m dedicated, I took pride, and I’m invested into safety, health, and the clients," said Severe.

Dr. Westley said those signs could be popping up in store windows as early as the end of this week. Business owners who complete the program will also be featured on FGCU’s Restart Florida website.