St. Pete chocolatier says her business is essential to the livelihood of her employees

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County officials are working to enforce their safer-at-home order. On Thursday, they posted 14,000 notices on business doors to warn businesses they could be shut down for violating social distancing. The order will last at least one week, but right now there is confusion.

8 On Your Side’s Christine McLarty spoke with one of the businesses who received the letter from the city, Schakolad Chocolate Factory in St. Petersburg.

The owner said their business is essential to the community and livelihood of its employees. We asked deputies at the Pinellas County Sherrif’s Department who admit the chocolate shop is a gray zone. Deputies also said it doesn’t matter as long as the store complies with CDC guidelines.

“We’re kind of a coffee shop, which is sort of a restaurant,” said Shakolad Chocolate Factory Owner, Jane Rakestraw. “We’re kind of in that, [grey zone]. I look at it more that people are looking for coffee. I’m a coffee drinker. If I don’t have my coffee I turn into Godzilla! haha”

The owner, Jane Rakestraw, said Easter is a huge holiday for them so they are continuing to make chocolates to deliver to families. They are also getting a lot of feedback from customers coming in for coffee, grateful that they are open.

Rakestraw said she feels as though the business is essential to the livelihood of her employees. She has one employee with a disabled husband who needs to work to put food on the table.

“I would lose my home and my utilities would be shut off,” said Chocolate maker Hilayne Payne. Her husband is currently disabled and she is the breadwinner for their family. “My husband has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, it’s a respiratory disease. So him having that makes him really high risk [of COVID-19].”

Schakolad Chocolate is keeping its doors open. They said foot traffic has been light and they have implemented rules to stay in compliance with the CDC such as only 2 customers allowed in the shop at a time, sanitizing surfaces regularly and offering gloves to customers.

Pinellas County released the below list of essential businesses. If you have questions about if your business is essential or not you can call the Sheriff Department Tipline at (727) 582-8477.

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