The Gates family has owned automotive dealerships for more than 100 years.

In that time, their businesses have survived through two world wars, the Great Depression, floods, blizzards, recessions and all kinds of other difficult times.

The past two months, however, have presented the family with a unique challenge.

"I've done this all my life, and I never could have imagined anything like this," said Steve Gates, owner of Toyota South in Richmond.

On Monday morning, Gates was able to open the doors of his dealerships to the public again.

As part of Gov. Andy Beshear's gradual plan to re-start the state's economy, some non-essential businesses were allowed to resume operation.

It wasn't business as usual, though.

Gates and his staff are having to adhere to a very strict set of regulations to allow customers back inside.

"It's OK," Gates said of the guidelines. "It's important for the safety of our guests and everyone who works here, too. It's expensive, though."

It took a significant financial effort to get back to business, he explained.

Gates bought thousands of masks and gloves — which employees are required to wear at all times and change out frequently during the day.

Employees have their temperatures recorded when they arrive at the facility.

"It's pass-fail. So, if they are above 100.4, they have to go home," Gates said.

The company hired two full-time employees to sanitize its local dealerships, and everything that can be touched by the public is sanitized every hour.

The staff at Toyota South is no longer allowed to go with customers on test drives. In the service department, all the technicians sanitize every contact point twice — once before the repair and once after.

"We are using a cleaner that does not adversely affect leather, vinyl or cloth," Gates said.

Gates and his crew are also using a fogger each night on the building.

"It's a solution that is 3% peroxide. It doesn't smell too good for a few hours," Gates said with a laugh. "The first time we tried it, we weren't wearing respirators. When we bought the fogger, they didn't tell us we needed respirators."

In addition, Gates had to buy hundreds of disposable pens wrapped in plastic wrappers that can be thrown away after each use. The owner also had to purchase long rectangular tables to replace the smaller, round tables in the showroom.

Each location also needed shields to be put up on counters to protect clerks. Each one of those cost around $120.

All five of Gates' local dealerships — Toyota South, Gates Nissan, Gates Hyundai, Gates Honda and Gates Auto Outlet — continued to operate in a somewhat unconventional format during the COVID-19 lockdown. They were able to continue to sell cars online only and also do repair service.

Still, the businesses suffered.

Gates had to furlough 66% of his workforce and saw a 55% drop in revenue.

"It was ugly because our expenses don't stop," Gates said. "Even if they were furloughed, we paid for the employee's health insurance. Rent and utilities and all that stuff don't stop either."

Almost all of those employees have returned and were back at work on Monday when the dealerships re-opened.

It's still uncertain what the future will hold for businesses and for the rest of the general public.

That all depends on the virus.

Gates, though, is optimistic.

"We are really hopeful," he said.

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