The River Merchant picks up where it left off amid COVID-19 shutdowns

The River Merchant, located on 911 N. Mantua St. in Kent, Ohio reopens indoor dining and patio on May 21, 2020.

Gina Schlegel Reporter

Due to Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders to shut down Ohio restaurants and bars on March 15, The River Merchant had to close its doors for indoor dining nearly a week after their grand opening. 

When the announcement was made, owner Cameron Thomas and his management team had meetings to discuss changes. Thomas opened for to-go sales of both food, beer and wine from their retail section. 

“It shocked everyone, there weren’t too many people that I talked to in the industry that had any idea that was coming ahead of time,” Thomas said. 

Retail specialist for The River Merchant, Lauren Straubhaar said, “It was crushing to be told that we couldn’t operate in the capacity that we had begun.”

During this time, business was a lot slower since there was only carryout, and many people were staying at home because of COVID-19. 

“The road in front of us that usually had a lot of traffic was almost empty,” Thomas said. 

Straubhaar, who curates the wine being sold at The River Merchant, shared the challenge of ordering wine during COVID-19 shutdowns. 

“Some of the international wines we carried became a little harder to get a hold of, or keep stock of,” Straubhaar said. 

Other countries had shut down trades for products like wine, and it was harder to get imported products during this time. 

After Gov. DeWine announced restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen on May 7, Thomas made sure to take the necessary steps before opening indoor dining again. The River Merchant reopened its doors on May 21 for both patio and indoor seating. 

The indoor seating was rearranged to keep proper spacing for COVID-19 regulations, and Thomas walked through the restaurant with the health department to make sure it was within guidelines. 

“It almost picked up right where that first week left off…,” Thomas said, “We are seeing a lot of the same people that were there the first week, feeling comfortable to come back out.”

Gina Schlegel covers downtown and construction. Contact her at [email protected]