It's the first step of Phase 2 in Massachusetts.
Retail stores reopened Monday and restaurants are now able to seat diners at outdoor tables, as the state eased more restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Italian restaurants in Boston's North End are among those excited to be welcoming customers back, even if it is only outside. Restaurants will get to open up for indoor dining at a later date, yet to be determined.
"I’m excited because I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Frank DePasquale, who owns eight places on and around Hanover Street.
Trattoria Il Panino opened for patio dining Monday morning, and you couldn't even get a table at Mare on opening night.
"We’re fully booked," DePasquale said. "Thank God that we’re fully booked, and we’re excited to be open on a Monday.”
A few doors down, there were a handful of people Monday on Mother Anna's patio, including the Burk family from Beacon Hill who says they are just glad to eat out again.
“It is refreshing and joyful," Christine Burk said. "Its nice to see people smiling.”
“It’s great. I enjoy it," Todd Burk added. "I’m glad to be outside and enjoying food with my family.”
There are strict requirements for masks and social distancing for businesses that reopened Monday. Some of those include that restaurants must place tables at least six feet apart, and no more than six people can sit at any one table. But DePasquale is taking even more steps.
"We’re going to make sure we have disinfectants on every single table," he said. We’re going to make sure that our menus are going to be either throwaway menus or they’re going to be cleaned and disinfected after every service.”
Store owners are happy this day has come, and now they’re just hoping that customers will start shopping again.
”People want to touch and feel the clothes,” Boston business owner Stacey Kraft said.
Kraft's Newbury Street bridal shop, Flair Boston, is back in business, sort of. Would-be brides are still prevented from trying the dresses on in the store because of COVID-19.
"All they can do is take a look at the dresses,” she said.
While all non-essential retailers in Massachusetts were allowed to reopen under Phase 2 on Monday, they still have to meet a variety of social distancing requirements. Dressing rooms will remain closed and the number of customers must be limited to 40-percent occupancy. Some will be able to make the new COVID-19 rules work. Others won’t.
”We need to get those customers back in. We need to get some transactions. We need some income in order to have these businesses be afloat," said Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
Olives & Grace, a small gift shop in Boston’s South End, has survived on internet sales and curbside pick. Sofi Madison says she’s not rushing to reopen her store.
"Right now I think that we can create a better customer experience by shipping online and putting details into that experience versus having somebody come in and feel like we’re sort of controlling what they’re doing," she said.
But at Flair Boston, business is picking up so they’re not waiting, despite the continued restrictions on the way they operate.
"Their biggest concern and safety concern is people trying on things one right after the other and in the state of Connecticut they made it so that they’re quarantining dresses for 48 hours or steaming at a very high temperature," Kraft said.
Despite this re-opening, Hurst says 30-percent of the retail group’s membership does not expect to survive the pandemic.
In the first step of the second phase, which began Monday, retail stores, day camps, lodging, youth sports and outdoor seated dining are permitted to resume operations. Hotels and motels will be allowed to accept all guests, not just essential workers. Daycare facilities can begin applying to reopen later this month.
The second step, which won't begin until health officials have determined enough progress has been made, will allow indoor dining at restaurants, as well as the opening of nail salons, tattoo parlors, massage therapy and tanning salons.
Baker said Saturday that he's comfortable moving forward with reopening the economy because the state has recorded a fall in the number of new cases and hospitalizations.
As of Monday, Massachusetts health officials reported another 38 people with coronavirus died and 193 more tested positive. The state's death toll has risen to 7,353, while 103,626 people have now been diagnosed with the virus in the commonwealth.
The Department of Public Health moved the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations into "positive trend'' status for the first time on Friday. The state already reported that testing capacity and the rate of tests that come back positive were on a positive trajectory.
Businesses Prepare to Reopen
Businesses in the Merrimack Valley have been hit hard twice - first with the gas explosions in 2018 and now with the widespread closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re still significantly less than if we were to be open as a full service dining restaurant, it’s a really social place and people come to reconnect with friends and family,” restaurant owner Danielle Berdahn said.
Berdahn, co-owner of Yella in Andover, said the pandemic has forced the restaurant to serve take-out only, bringing business down by as much as 50 percent.
"We cant wait to have people back," Berdahn said. "We really just love our customers so much. We have friendships with all of them - they’re what makes the business special."
While Berdahn said that she’s excited to have outdoor dining, the owners are still waiting on approval from the town to shut down the private street near them to make room for expansion.
Retailers, also allowed to open Monday with restrictions, have new safety measures in place. Royal Jewelers in Andover has been in business for more than 70 years and owner Steven Leed said he’s never seen anything like it.
"We have all new procedures with masks, sanitizing, we now have these shields between us and the rest of the store," Leed said. "All of that's in place but to see someone, talk to someone and see the expression in their eyes - we’re really happy about that."
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