Adija Greer-Smith prepares chocolate-covered strawberries in the kitchen of her Milwaukee bakery, Confectionately Yours, on July 2. As of July 1, her business, housed inside the Sherman Phoenix in Milwaukee, can now operate at 50% capacity. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

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To hear audio from Adija Greer-Smith, click on the gray highlighted sections of this story below.

Milwaukee County moved into “Phase 4” of its COVID-19 orders on July 1. That means businesses such as Adija Greer-Smith’s Confectionately Yours, housed inside the Sherman Phoenix, can now operate at 50% capacity.

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While some restaurants and shops offered curb-side options during the initial spikes of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Milwaukee’s Sherman Phoenix waited until early June to open its doors to the general public. And after nearly three months without sales, Greer-Smith is once again baking, getting ready to greet customers and bringing back staff.

“Am I excited? Well yeah, a little bit, because it will push some normalcy back into my life,” Greer-Smith said. “Every day baking and preparing for my customers. Am I concerned? Yeah a little bit of that, too.”

Among her main anxieties: not having proper personal protective gear for staff who will interact with the public daily. She said she faces a shortage of hand sanitizer and disinfectant, items she would regularly use to sanitize her workspace during the lockdown — before customers were even allowed inside the Phoenix.

“One of my girls, my retail cashier, asked me today, if we had protective shields yet, you know, with us opening tomorrow,” Greer-Smith said. “She was wondering because she’s kind of the front-line worker for the bakery, and I felt bad responding to her that we didn’t have it, but I was still asking her to take the risk and be at the forefront.”

Even as Milwaukee’s new reported COVID-19 deaths have dropped compared to last month, and daily positive tests have remained steady, confirmed cases continue to increase for some of the city’s populations, including the Latino community.

Opening day goes smoothly

On an early sun-filled Saturday morning, Greer-Smith reflected on her reopening following a nearly three-month shutdown. But her swirl of emotions related to more than just business. Her father, Clarence Greer, died May 3 of health issues unrelated to COVID-19. He was 91 years old.

“I’m so thankful that he was able to see me accomplish one of my biggest goals, which was to be a business owner and to open up a bakery honoring my grandmother’s legacy. And he was able to see that,” Greer-Smith said. “But losing him, which seems like just days ago, is still really painful.”

Adija Greer-Smith, right, decorates strawberries as her son Xavier Smith helps in the kitchen of her bakery, Confectionately Yours, in Milwaukee on July 2, 2020. Credit: Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Back at the storefront on opening day, customers started flowing in, slower than pre-pandemic numbers but with regularity throughout the day. Her staff was upbeat and seemed to relish being together again. Greer-Smith said customers were patient with the new COVID-19 safeguards, including requiring face masks to be worn and maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance. But with the gradual return to normalcy, the more it brings into focus how much has changed in recent months.

Greer-Smith believes her baked goods transmit energy. That’s why she always approaches her baking with a positive mindset.

“I’m a baker that believes that positive energy transfers into everything that you do including your baking and cooking,” Greer-Smith said. “I need to gather my thoughts, and gather my energy, so that I can transfer positive, warm love into what I give my customers today because right now, I’m struggling.”

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Jimmy Gutierrez

Jimmy Gutierrez joined News414, a collaboration between Wisconsin Watch, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Outlier Media, in March 2020. As engagement manager, he is connecting with Milwaukee residents to respond to their information needs and generate news coverage that addresses their concerns. Gutierrez grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee and spent 2013-2015 as a Milwaukee firefighter, where he also led a multimedia campaign to improve firefighter health and wellness. Gutierrez previously spent four years at New Hampshire Public Radio, where he launched, co-hosted and produced The Second Greatest Show on Earth, which provided a platform for listener questions and engagement.