The group Huntingdon County Open for Business (HCOP) held a pro-business rally Tuesday morning in front of the Huntingdon County Courthouse, with speeches from local leaders, business owners and Rep. Rich Irvin regarding reopening businesses ahead of Gov. Tom Wolf’s timeline.
State and local officials, including Irvin, signed a letter sent to Wolf Monday stating their support for businesses in Huntingdon County wishing to join other defiant counties in moving from the red zone into the yellow zone Friday, May 15.
Ken Boone, founder of HCOB, opened the rally by addressing Wolf’s response to such counties, labeling them and the businesses planning to reopen as “cowardly” and “selfish.” Boone, who also pastors Alabaster House church in Mill Creek, cited Shelley Luther, a salon owner who was arrested in Texas last week for defying Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency orders, as an example of justified civil disobedience.
“Yesterday, you were called selfish. I watched my dad for nearly 40 years build a business and I can tell you the number one motivation behind his business building was his family. It is not a selfish thing for a salon owner in Texas to open up her shop in the midst of a shutdown because she wants to feed her children. That’s not selfishness,” he said.
Also speaking was the owner of Huston Ford car dealership in Huntingdon, Steve Huston, who opened by stating that, “Huston Ford has made a decision to reopen, effective May 15. This is not a decision that can be explained by a soundbite.”
Huston noted that his business has remained compliant, but after Huntingdon County was kept in the red zone last Friday, in large part due to the COVID-19 outbreak at SCI Huntingdon, he was forced to make a decision.
“We have followed the guidelines presented to us for two months without question...Last Friday all our surrounding counties went yellow and we were kept red. The result is our sales department would remain closed while our competitors would remain open. This would be a death knell for our 96-year-old company. Just stay home and go bankrupt because of a breakout at the state correctional facility...We are not willing to go down this way,” he said.
In his speech, Irvin said that, “We need to move forward as a county” and he was particularly critical of Wolf’s lack of transparency in recent months.
“We started working in a bipartisan manner with the governor and our friends across the aisle...we tried to make strides. Then he (Wolf) comes out with an arbitrary list of businesses that are considered essential. There is no transparency in his waiver program or what his mindset is in as far as what business should be open and what one shouldn’t be. And to this day he has kept that a secret and failed to release any of that decision making process or waiver list through the right-to-know law.”
Irvin spoke with The Daily News after the rally and discussed what he had heard from business owners earlier that day.
“A lot of them are concerned with the governor’s threats, calling us cowards and the fact that he wants to refuse funding to our county and the threat to pull business licenses from people who have committed no crimes except for wanting to go to work,” he said.
Irvin stressed that supporting an opening of the economy does not equate with a lack of seriousness concerning the pandemic.
“I don’t take this virus lightly and I don’t think anyone takes this virus lightly. As a business chooses to move forward with reopening, they do need to continue to practice the social distancing and hygiene to mitigate the spread of this,” he said.
Melissa Henry, owner of Quirky Quizine in Shirleysburg, was in attendance yesterday and believes that business owners are capable of keeping customers safe.
“In order to start a business and to run it and keep it open, you have to be smart. Business owners aren’t going to put their customers in danger. That’s not a smart move. So all the small businesses are going to do the smart thing and follow the guidelines and take extra precautions because they want to have a business,” she said. “We need to stand up.”
Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.