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Staying afloat
Some local businesses thriving with more people staying home

For many small businesses, the coronavirus has meant turning the lights off and waiting for it to be safe for crowds to return. However, for a few businesses, the stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures have allowed customers to frequent their stores in even greater capacity than normal.

With large portions of the population staying at home and having more free time, Manhattan residents have focused on their hobbies and eating more meals at home. As a result, grocery stores and outdoor supply shops have seen increases in customers.

For The Pathfinder, a surge in residents trying to get outside has ensured the store’s bike specialists have stayed busy.

“We’ve seen a pretty incredible increase during this pandemic,” assistant manager Ben Stark-Sachs said. “It’s a difficult time in the world that we’d never wish to see, but it’s had some unpredictable consequences all over, which for us has meant a pretty significant increase in sales in the bike side of our store.”

The Pathfinder, 304 Poyntz Ave., doubles as an outdoor supply shop and a bike shop. Since the coronavirus began affecting the Manhattan area, the shop has seen bike repairs double from last year, which was a record year at the time.

At the same time, bike sales have increased to three to four times their normal rate, according to Stark-Sachs. Helmet and other cycling accessory sales also have increased.

“People during this time, where all these recreation outlets are closed, like sports events, ball sports, gyms are closed, and people are looking for another activity they can do and stay fit,” Stark-Sachs said. “Cycling provides a great opportunity for that.”

The surge in bike sales has allowed the store to remain financially level, as sales of other outdoor supplies have slowed.

Similarly, grocery stores like the Asian Market, 2304 Stagg Hill Road, also saw an uptick in customers as people stocked up on supplies at the beginning of the pandemic.

“When the first COVID case hit Kansas, we had a dramatic increase in customers,” said Fanny Fang, a partner at the Asian Market. “They flocked in to buy rice. That is a staple for so many cuisines. What would typically last us three to four months, we sold in two weeks.”

The only reason the market’s rice supply lasted that long was due to a policy that limited the amount of rice a customer could purchase. Despite the control measures, the Asian Market’s sales increased by around 20% in the first few weeks following the pandemic measures, according to Fang.

Like The Pathfinder, the Asian Market’s sales have helped the store to stay level during the pandemic. Despite having more sales than usual, the market is also dealing with higher prices when trying to restock.

“The difficulty now is, these are concerns I had in the beginning, is now we’re seeing prices increase,” Fang said. “Especially my business, which is an international grocery store, we’re starting to see it’s harder to get hands on products. ... So yes, sales have gone up, but so have costs.”

The increase in patrons has forced both stores to confront how to safely operate a business while also trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

For The Pathfinder, maintaining social distancing meant restricting operations to curbside service. Bike repairs were confined to the store’s back porch, with staff wearing masks full time and putting on a new pair of gloves with each customer interaction.

Still, there were times where social distancing proved especially difficult no matter the measures taken.

“That hasn’t always been easy, especially when trying to make sure the bike is fitted correctly,” Stark-Sachs said. “We have to have them ride it, drop it off and we’ll change the seat heights. All the stepping forward and stepping back, trying to keep distance the whole time.”

As of May 23, The Pathfinder began allowing customers back into the store. Only a limited number of customers are allowed inside the store at one time and are encouraged to limit their contact with merchandise. The Pathfinder also has installed plexiglass barriers in front of its registers.

The Asian Market began taking similar measures as soon as the pandemic started. Due to the nature of the store, completely restricting access to the store was unfeasible.

As a result, the market required all customers, as well as employees, to wear face masks before entering the store. Everyone must also put on hand sanitizer.

The store briefly was open only for delivery and pick-up after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-April.

The store also installed barriers at each of its registers. As one more measure, it also began employing a security guard.

“We hired a security guard to monitor crowd control,” Fang said. “Us as an outward facing Asian business, in the beginning of COVID, and there’s still a lot of racism, but in the beginning there was a lot of misinformation going around. So we hired a guard for our protection but also to do crowd control, so we could limit the people in the store.”

Despite the costs of the added measures, the increase in customers at both locations has been an overall benefit since the pandemic began. For The Pathfinder, the increase in bike sales has allowed the store to remain steady during turbulent times.

“Our business is more or less steady, it’s just the distribution that has changed,” Stark-Sachs said. “There’s always an ebb and flow. During this crazy time, it’s shaken out that bikes picked up a pretty wild amount.”

In the Asian Market’s case, the increase in sales has allowed the store to pay its good fortune forward.

“My parents owned a restaurant, so I feel for our brothers and sisters in the restaurant industry,” Fang said. “Because our business has done relatively well with COVID, we’ve purchased $5 gift cards from restaurants to give to our customers for free as a thank you for shopping with us and to support local restaurants.”


Courts
Local cases rescheduled as district courthouses prepare for reopening

With coronavirus-related restrictions gradually being lifted, local high-profile court cases have hearings scheduled for the summer.

The Riley County District Courthouse has been operating in a limited capacity since mid-March. As courts have been performing emergency operations, such as managing bond hearings, warrants and protection orders, most other hearings were directed to continue at a later date or be conducted remotely via video.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Luckert on Thursday issued new orders guiding district courts as they begin reopening to the public and renewed orders suspending certain deadlines and time limitations for courts and prosecutors.

Judges and counsels had to push back hearings or appearances in several local cases:

  • A two-day preliminary hearing for Robert Iacobellis, which was rescheduled from April to June 16 and 17. The 61-year-old owner of Bob’s Diner is charged with 125 counts of aggravated indecent liberties, one count of aggravated indecent solicitation, three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy and one count of rape, all allegedly with a child.
  • A status hearing for Jalen Gill, 18, set for June 23. Gill is charged with attempted second-degree murder, criminal discharge of a firearm, aggravated assault and three counts of aggravated endangerment of a child. Police linked him to a January incident in which a man was shot in southwest Manhattan.
  • A preliminary hearing for Alan Goens, Dylan Hitsman and Jaylon Hitsman, which is scheduled for July 9. They are charged with first-degree murder and other related charges after a man was shot and killed in November after an alleged attempted robbery. Shamar Sutton faces similar charges and his next court appearance, a status hearing, is set for June 23.
  • A preliminary status hearing for Sean Morgan, who is charged with rape, aggravated criminal sodomy and other charges, is scheduled for June 2. His charges stem from a February 2015 incident involving a 31-year-old woman and a March 2018 incident with a 26-year-old woman.

The new order requires courts to remain closed to the public until it can meet certain conditions, including seeking guidance from the local public health department, complying with health recommendations and having a plan for screening people entering courtrooms or offices.

According to the order, all hearings should still be done remotely when possible. It bars most in-person proceedings that require more than 10 people in a courtroom and that people be at least six feet apart.

It allows jury trials to take place if they are required to preserve someone’s right to a speedy trial and the court has presented a plan that outlines how it will proceed with jury selection, evidence handling, provides video streaming if necessary and how the jury will be managed to meet social distancing requirements.


RCPD Officer Brian Jolley, right, points while talking to Sgt. Pat Tiede outside of Manhattan Regional Airport in response to a bomb threat on Friday afternoon.


Crime
breaking
RCPD, KHP investigate bomb threat at Manhattan airport

Riley County police and Kansas Highway Patrol troopers reported no danger Friday after investigating a reported bomb threat at Manhattan Regional Airport.

Airport security called the Riley County emergency dispatch center at 9:40 a.m. saying they had received a voicemail from a man claiming there was a bomb in the airport.

RCPD’s bomb team and KHP’s hazardous devices unit responded to the incident.

Officials evacuated the terminal as a precaution. They cleared the terminal at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Both departments continued to search along the airport’s perimeter Friday afternoon.


News
CITY NOTEBOOK | Sales down 14.7% in March

Officials are starting to see the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as the city’s sales in March dropped 14.7%, or $1.5 million, compared to March 2019.

The city had about $9.1 million in retail sales in March based on a May report reflecting March sales. That is down from the $10.6 million in sales during the same time period last year.

That comes from a calculation using the base sales tax rate for Manhattan of 8.95%. (This base sales tax rate of 8.95% is not the uniform rate in all parts of Manhattan, however.)

Reflecting March sales, the city collected $140,937 less in sales tax revenue in May compared to May 2019. This May, the city brought in $816,365, which is down from $957,302 collected during May 2019.

“The recent events has left many companies closed for the last two weeks in March,” Ashley McNatt, senior financial analyst for the city, said in a Thursday email to The Mercury.

Specifically, wholesale trade plus accommodations and food services in May 2020 were down 38% and 32% from May 2019.

Through May 2020, the city has collected $4.5 million in sales tax revenue, which is down $83,630 from the same time period last year. That is a decrease of 1.81%. The city collected $4.6 million through May 2019.

Job loss

The city of Manhattan, including Riley and Pottawatomie counties, lost 5,118 jobs from March to April. The unemployment rate is 8.4%, which is lower than Wichita’s and Topeka’s rates.

Wichita’s unemployment rate is 17.8%, Topeka’s is 11.7% and the entire state’s unemployment rate is 11.2%.

Jason Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, reported this data Thursday afternoon to the Manhattan Area Recovery Task Force.

The state of Kansas lost about 137,000 jobs from March to April, Smith said.

Construction

Sunset Avenue will close from Poyntz Avenue through Anderson Avenue beginning Monday for street repairs, the city announced Thursday.

Residents in the area will still be able to reach their residences, but crews will set up detours at 17th Street and Anderson Avenue as well as Poyntz Avenue and 17th Street, officials said.

At the K-18 bridge, starting Friday, vehicular traffic was moved to the north westbound lanes as crews reconstruct the south eastbound lanes and bridge, officials said.

Regarding pedestrians, the Linear Trail will be closed between Richards Drive and Rosencutter Road, so crews will install a pedestrian detour, officials said. A temporary crossing will be on the west side of the intersection for pedestrians, officials said. Officials said the sidewalk on the north side of Fort Riley Boulevard will close between Richards Drive and Westwood Road.

The sidewalks on the west side of Richards Drive and Rosencutter Road will stay open, officials said.

In addition, the northernmost westbound lane on Fort Riley Boulevard is closing from South 8th Street through South 10th Street for about two weeks for the Douglass Center project, officials said Thursday.


News
K-State to test football players for COVID-19

Kansas State University plans to test all of its football players for the coronavirus.

K-State chief of staff Linda Cook informed the Manhattan Area Task Force on Thursday afternoon about this initiative.

Medical staff within the athletics department will arrange the testing, Cook said.

Cook, who is also the director of community relations at K-State, said athletes are coming back to campus in waves. Football players are expected to return next week, Cook said.

“They’re returning to a very different environment,” Cook said Thursday. “And what they’ve known of the environment is of the past is not going to be the environment that they’ll be operating in going forward.”

Student athletes in other sports will be return at later dates and will follow the protocol in effect at that time, Cook said.

“These are the current plans established by K-State Athletics, but the plans can always change as circumstances change based on guidance from Big 12 Conference, K-State, Riley County Health and the state,” Cook said in a Friday morning email.

Players will not be allowed to enter any facilities until they have been tested for the virus, Cook said.

Cook said there will be daily screenings with temperature and symptom checks with athletes. She did not say where testing will take place.

People must wear masks while in facilities and common spaces, Cook said.

If athletes do not follow guidelines, they will not be allowed to enter facilities, Cook said.

Athletes are asked to stay in Manhattan once arriving back until there’s more travel guidance set from the NCAA or the Big 12 Conference.

Student athletes who are coming from mandatory quarantine areas must complete a 14-day quarantine in Manhattan.

According to guidelines from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), people who have traveled or been in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey or New York should quarantine for 14 days. KDHE is also asking people who visited Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri over Memorial Day weekend to quarantine for 14 days.