Tanning beds and sex toys: 'lockdown' South Dakota style

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Rapid City (United States) (AFP)

Jessica Wise has never been so busy since she and her sister started their tanning salon in South Dakota, one of the few American states not under pandemic lockdown.

In this prairie state of wide-open spaces, many small businesses considered more or less essential -- from tanning salons to sex shops and even the odd bar -- can openly operate, almost as usual.

Wise's Bella Tan opened in 2017 in a shopping center in Rapid City, not far from the state's Mount Rushmore where towering images of late presidents are carved out of rock.

In the last few weeks her small family business has picked up the clients of two competitors who chose to temporarily lower the covers of their UV beds, even though they weren't legally ordered to.

"People are so thankful we're open," says Wise. "A lot of them come in and say they just feel depressed and need some sun therapy. Vitamin D helps you. That's what they are looking for."

With her jeans, boots and check Harley-Davidson shirt with a Johnny Cash T-shirt underneath, she couldn't look more American. A dynamic boss with the requisite perfect tan, she says she is taking all precautions against the virus.

Hours are reduced, a large container of hand sanitizer stands prominently in the lobby, and the UV beds are thoroughly disinfected -- "everything they can touch or cough on."

- Carefree -

South Dakota, known for corn fields and cattle ranches, is one of only five US states without a lockdown order. For those from elsewhere, having lived for weeks with isolation and deserted streets, it's a somewhat unsettling flashback to a previous life.

Traffic is almost normal and there is a carefree attitude which can lead visitors to unconsciously lower their guard.

Wearing face masks is almost an exception, the recommended "social distancing" of six feet (1.8 meters) is rarely respected, and some shake hands or hug as if the virus had magically stopped at the borders of this sparsely populated rural state.

Whether or not shops open seems to vary, depending on municipal regulations, in a mish-mash from which emerges only one fixed rule: no more than 10 people at the same time inside.

That means most bars and restaurants prefer to settle for takeout orders.

But the AFP team that travelled the long, straight roads of South Dakota this week still managed to quench their thirst at a simple bar in Sioux Falls, the state's largest city.

- Watched over by God -

The Hi-Ho is a "dive bar", where regulars hang out to solve the world's problems under neon beer signs.

Here too, is another American original: The waitress Mary Anderson, in a plaid shirt, holding down three jobs even though she's over 60.

Anderson says she doesn’t fear the coronavirus which has now killed more than 50,000 Americans including nine in South Dakota.

"God's going to take care of me. He always has and if it's time to go, it's time to go!"

The hardest thing for her in this health crisis is to have to refuse people when the limit of 10 is reached.

"It's just kind of heartbreaking. But some people wait outside until somebody leaves!"

On the other side of the state, in Rapid City, there are no more than 10 in Dick & Jane's Naughty Spot sex shop. Behind an opaque window they are greeted by a mannequin in fine lingerie -- and a plastic face shield.

"We're an essential business," Kate, the manager, says smiling. "People have just received their stimulus check" under a federal economic relief program. "So what better way to lift up the mood."

Things are going so well here in these uncertain times that many sex toys are out of stock.