‘Anxious to get back’: Businesses prepare to open during Phase 2

  • Debra Flynn, the owner of Eastside Grill in Northampton, discusses plans for outdoor seating once restaurants are allowed to reopen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Robbie Bocon, left, who is the general manager of Eastside Grill in Northampton, talks with Nikki Calabrese, the executive chef, Thursday, June 4, 2020, about how the kitchen will change once the restaurant reopens. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Robbie Bocon, who is the general manager of Eastside Grill in Northampton, stacks bags of potting soil that will fill planters for flowers to grow in, front, Thursday, June 4, 2020. They will be used to decorate an alley beside the restaurant which will seat up to 16 diners. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jean Zampiceni of East Longmeadow paints a mural on a wall Thursday in a driveway beside Eastside Grill in Northampton as the restaurant prepares to use the area for outdoor dining. She is the owner of Painted Sign. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eastside Grill owner Debra Flynn walks on her outdoor deck, Thursday, June 4, 2020 describing where six people can be seated when the restaurant reopens. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eastside Grill owner Debra Flynn and her general manager, Robbie Bocon, on Thursday carry bistro chairs they plan to use for outdoor dining at the restaurant once it reopens.  STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nikki Calabrese, the executive chef of Eastside Grill in Northampton, checks a list of food they have available, Thursday, June 4, 2020, to prepare for the reopening of the restaurant. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Robert Markey of Ashfield paints a mural on a wall in an alley beside Eastside Grill in Northampton, Thursday, June 4, 2020. The alley will be used to seat some of the grill's customers once it reopens. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eastside Grill owner Debra Flynn and her general manager, Robbie Bocon, look at bistro chairs and tables, Thursday, June 4, 2020, they plan to use for outdoor dining at the restaurant once it reopens. They will be able to seat six diners on their deck and 16 more in an alley beside the restaurant. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, has installed a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the Amherst boutique and is taking other measures to protect customers and herself in preparation for the shop’s reopening next week. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, has put together a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the Amherst boutique in preparation for its reopening soon. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, says all clothing gets a steam treatment upon arrival at the Amherst boutique, but clothes will also be steamed after they are tried on by customers. Benson is hoping to hear good news Saturday from Gov. Baker when he makes announcements regarding phase two of reopening. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, has put together a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the Amherst boutique in preparation for its reopening soon. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, says they will only have one of their registers operating at the Amherst boutique and will be able to maintain social distancing. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Benson, owner of Zanna, has put together a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the Amherst boutique in preparation for its reopening soon. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dani Klein-Williams, owner of Northampton’s dani. fine photography & image studio, coordinates her children during an outside photo shoot. SUBMITTED PHOTO/DANI KLEIN-WILLIAMS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2020 2:59:44 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When stay-at-home advisories were handed down by the state in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March, Eastside Grill owner Debra Flynn had to pivot her business model — and fast. With in-person dining suspended, Flynn focused her energy on bolstering the restaurant’s takeout service.

Nearly three months later, some retailers and restaurateurs, such as Flynn, are preparing to welcome guests back — perhaps as early as Monday — but mandatory precautions like allowing only outside dining will surely make for an unusual experience.

“I’m very excited to see the customers again,” Flynn said. “I want to make sure everybody’s comfortable, I want to make sure everyone’s following the rules. It’s just a different time.”

In May, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a phased approach to reopening businesses that were closed on March 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase began on May 25 and heralded the opening of businesses like hair salons, recreational marijuana shops and curbside pickup for retail stores.

Baker is expected to outline details about the second phase on Saturday, when more businesses — such as restaurants, retailers, some personal services, libraries, funeral homes and more — will learn when they can reopen. The governor may begin allowing inside dining at some point during this phase.

Flynn said she’s been preparing outside seating in anticipation for a potential reopening Wednesday. Customers will have to make a reservation, she said, and the restaurant will only accept parties of two.

On an outside patio where she used to be able to sit 20 people at five tables, Flynn said social distancing will reduce the patio’s capacity to six customers at three tables. Flynn has converted the restaurant’s driveway, which she said is included under her patio permit, to a space where she can sit 16 people at eight tables.

“I don’t want my staff to be uncomfortable, I don’t want the customer to be uncomfortable,” Flynn said.

Eastside Grill will adhere to several safety measures when it reopens, including requiring servers and guests to wear masks. Flynn said the restaurant will also create sanitizing stations, clean surfaces regularly, use disposable salt and pepper shakers and offer digital menus. Guidance on reopening given by the state has been “extremely helpful,” she said; the state has safety checklists and other documents businesses must abide by.

In Amherst, Bistro 63 owner Rasif Rafiq said his business has stayed afloat during restrictions through help from the community, though he said it’s “barely hanging on.” Rafiq’s been planning for a potential reopening for three or four weeks, and the restaurant has an outside patio with four or five tables where he can sit customers as early as Monday, if the governor allows.

He plans to seek permission from the town to use an alleyway next to his eatery where he could place five or six tables. Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said the town has estimated a 10-day turnaround on those applications.

“I don’t expect people to come rushing back to the restaurant,” Rafiq said. “But we, at the same time, are going to make sure the people who do get the safest experience possible.”

Retail

Down the road from Bistro 63, Amy Benson, owner of the independent boutique Zanna, said she’s preparing to reopen Wednesday.

“I’m so excited, but at the same time I’m really nervous, and then I’m really anxious because I’m like ‘Oh no, what if no one comes?’” Benson said. “But we have such a loyal following that I know we will see everyone eventually.”

The pandemic forced Benson to open an online store. She did virtual shopping for customers, curbside pickup and private one-on-one shopping inside the store during the height of restrictions.

“I generated enough revenue to keep the lights on and the A.C. going,” Benson said.

There will be restrictions on how many customers can be let inside the store at once — eight people per 1,000 square feet, she said — six-feet social distancing rules will be enforced, surfaces will be sanitized and clothes will be steamed after they are tried on by customers. She’ll also offer private shopping hours by appointment for those who are immunocompromised.

Christian Reader, one of the owners of Comics N’ More on Cottage Street in Easthampton, said his business relied heavily on community support to stay afloat this spring. Distributors stopped shipping books April 1, only to resume at the end of May, Reader said, which was a departure from the shop’s normal business model of having subscribers regularly pick up new entries in their favorite series.

People instead bought books the store already had through a new online store, which Reader said was a “net positive.” Comics N’ More also started mail order, delivery and curbside pickup for people to get their comics.

But when asked if they’ll allow in-person browsing if Baker allows stores to open beginning Monday, Reader said: “Absolutely not.”

Reader said he doesn’t know if it’s safe to move past their current sales methods just yet, arguing that COVID-19 testing numbers may not accurately reflect the reality of the disease’s current spread.

He’s not alone. A group of doctors, union leaders and health officials are demanding Baker ensure that at-risk populations, including people of color, are adequately protected before reopening; they also demanded increased testing, among other things, according to the State House News Service.

“We have numbers in our state that rival foreign countries,” Reader said. “I don’t like these odds. I don’t like this fight — this fight’s terrifying.”

Other businesses

Since March, Dani Klein-Williams, owner of dani. fine photography & image studio in Northampton, has been meeting with customers either at their homes or at hers in Southampton for socially distant photography sessions.

Personal services, such as photography, will be allowed to reopen during the second phase, but Klein-Williams said she doesn’t know if she can reopen her Thornes Marketplace studio to take photos, as it’s an enclosed space and people must wear face masks.

“Outside, if I’m 25 feet away and we’re in fresh air, it’s very safe to have your mask off,” she said. “But in the studio, in a confined space … it’s not clear about how that works.”

For now, Klein-Williams said she’s not having anyone come into the studio for photos, though she will hold consulting sessions.

Nail salons also will be able to open during Phase Two — but not at first. Lisa Smith, owner of Lisalaina Nail & Skin Care in Northampton, said she would have thought nail salons would be able to open when hair salons did, but for now, she’s just been waiting for the go-ahead from the state.

“I’m a little frustrated that hairdressers got to start, they touch people, they’re one-on-one,” Smith said. “I’m not sure if they thought this through.”

A one-woman show, Smith always goes by appointments and said she has taken sanitizing seriously in the past. When she does reopen, she said she’ll follow all of the guidelines and will lock the door between guests so there are fewer people in the store at once.

“I’m just anxious to get back in the world with people and really do what I love to do,” she said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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