Restaurants and retail prepare to open under new restrictions

Rick St. Pierre owns Verve Restaurant in Somerville, named best bar by NJ.com. He, like so many other small business owners, is preparing to reopen on June 15 for outdoor dining, following orders from Gov. Phil Murphy and Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

“The staff must be checked daily for symptoms. They must wear face coverings at all times and gloves when I contact with customers, and when preparing or serving food or handling utensils and other items. Seating must be limited to a maximum of eight customers per table, and the tables must be a minimum of 6 feet apart,” Persichilli said during Thursday’s press briefing.

“With these protections in place, our downtowns and main streets can once again open up, and small businesses can again open their doors to their communities,” said Murphy at the same press conference.

But several business owners said it’s not that easy.

“That limited capacity is the first issue that we’re battling, and then also the question as to whether or not people are actually going to be comfortable enough to come out and shop and dine,” said Downtown Somerville Alliance Executive Director Natalie Pineiro.

The city of Bordentown is facing the same capacity issue with a 1 mile strip of downtown stores, many of which are small indoor spaces. The restaurants are used to packing the narrow sideways with outdoor seating.

“Really the only option is to then expand into the street, which is on-street parking area. So that’s the difficulty for our downtown, is to make sure that safety is the number one priority. That we’re not taking up too much parking, because parking is already a premium, but we want business owners to be able to have enough flexibility that they can seat more than two or three parties,” said John Brodowski, deputy mayor and director of revenue and finance for the city of Bordentown.

Pineiro and many in the small business community want to do the same in Somerville.

“We need to extend that footprint in order to survive in general because we’re so limited inside,” said St. Pierre. “How we can be profitable with four tables? We’re designed for 10, not for four. We’re designed for 150 people a night, not 25 or 30.”

Restaurants aren’t alone. Non-essential businesses, like the aptly named Evolve, will welcome customers on June 15 as well. Owner RanD Pitts says his business is prepared to get back to brick and mortar sales.

“We put up a plexiglass shield for our employees and for our customers to feel safer. They’ll be social distancing. There’ll be times when, if I have any of my clients that want to come in, I’ll shut the store down for them. You need an hour to shop for the season? Come in the store is yours,” he said.

As for sanitizing the clothes…

“We’re going to steam and sanitize everything that’s tried on,” Pitts said. “We’re going to set it aside for maybe a day before it goes back out to be tried on again.”

Somerville passed an ordinance to close the street and now they’re waiting on state approval. Businesses and officials feel it’s a really critical step to revitalizing the local economy because it will give customers the space they need to feel safe enough to get back out and spend their money.