Monday, June 17, 2024

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Back in Business Via the New Normal

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE Mike Fedell, manager of The Little Barn at 1060 Post Road East, finally got the news he was waiting for today around 3:40 p.m.

WestportNow.com Image
Outdoor diners at The Little Barn before the pandemic hit. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Staring at empty tables since mid-March due to the coronavirus, his restaurant received Planning and Zoning Department approval to reopen outdoors.

“It feels good,” Fedell said. “We’ve been open a week-and-a-half doing take out, but with this we’re excited.”

Across the state restaurants got a reprieve from Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order effective Wednesday, allowing outdoor dining.

In Westport, 20 restaurants currently have applications with Planning and Zoning for permits to reopen al fresco at 50% of indoor capacity, according to Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce (WWCC) who also serves on the town’s reopening task force.

Obtaining a permit requires sign offs from the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) and the Fire Marshal. In addition to being limited to 50% capacity, eateries must provide sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, disposable paper menus, prepackaged condiments, plastic cutlery, six feet of separation from other diners, and yes, staff and customers must wear face masks, with customers only lowering masks to eat.

Wednesday night, the only eatery to open outdoors with town approval was Pearl Restaurant & Bar at the Longshore Inn.

“We opened around 5, and we had about 11 parties,” said hostess Evelyn Vasquez, adding that pearl has 17 tables on its patio.

“Last night was our first night, and I think it went really well,” she added. “A lot of people were complimenting the chef.”

Vasquez said she expects the weekend to be busier, despite rain predicted for Saturday.

Harry Brady, who co-owns with Bob O’Mahoney Viva Zapata at 530 Riverside Ave., also got word today that the restaurant was good to go.

“We got confirmation this afternoon from (Planning and Zoning Director) Mary Young,” Brady said. “We’re open now, and we have a total of 16 tables.”

Ten minutes after Young’s call, Brady welcomed diners to three of Viva’s tables.

“People are happy to be out, very happy,” he said.

However, it was a different story at the riverfront Rive Bistro at 299 Riverside Ave. where owner Eric Sierra said he hadn’t yet gotten approval.

“It’s unbelievable, and I’m very upset,” Sierra said, adding that he had to turn away about 40 customers who had made reservations.

Tonight, Planning and Zoning Chair Danielle Dobin, in an email to WestportNow, said Rive Bistro was approved late today,

“They only submitted their application at 3:30 p.m. yesterday so it was turned around very quickly,” she said. “Westport residents can feel confident that all approved outdoor dining strictly complies with the COVID health and safety regulations. Even restaurants with existing outdoor patios were reinspected. Our outdoor dining is the safest in the country.”

Along with restaurants, retailers got a shot in the arm Wednesday. The only nonessential retailer open since Mother’s Day weekend has been Terrain since it is technically a nursery.

“We have over 500 stores in town, and I would say roughly half of them will be open by tomorrow,” said Randy Herbertsen, president of the Westport Downtown Merchant’s Association (WDMA).

He added that some of the national chain stores, adhering to national guidelines, “You will see them open in June.”

Like restaurants, retailers will have new ways of doing business in light of COVID-19, he said. There are thermometers for employees to have temperatures taken upon arrival at work. There are plexiglass shields at registers, sanitizers at the doors, new signage and restrictions on returns, and clothing try-ons require a 48-hour quarantine, according to Herbertsen.

He added that customers and employees are also being encouraged to dial 211 “if they feel an employee is not following the rules.”

“People are coming out, but right now it’s a learning curve for the stores,” Herbertsen said. “They want to be a welcoming environment, but this is the new normal now.”

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