Thursday, May 06, 2021

Local News

Customers Welcomed Back Under Phase One of Governor’s Reopening Plan

If certain criteria for hospitalizations, testing, and personal protective gear, just to name a few, continue to be met, non-essential entities including barbershops and hair salons, museums, offices, restaurants, and retail stores have the option of taking part in Governor Ned Lamont’s first phase of reopening, which goes into effect Wednesday, May 20.

The choice on whether to welcome customers back, for some in a limited capacity i.e. only outdoor seating for restaurants, is left to the owner’s discretion.

Any business owners who choose to reopen have some information to sift through and guidelines to meet, and they must certify online that their business will abide by certain health and safety protocols designed in part by the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

In Centerbrook, Meagan Foley of Meagan’s Barber Shop at 61 Main Street has been busy booking appointments since the governor set a May 20 deadline for reopening.

“It’s a nerve-racking thing, but I’m ready to get back to work,” she says.

Foley is following state guidelines and taking steps to ensure proper sanitation and sterilization protocols are implemented in her shop. She will be wearing proper personal protective gear including a mask and safety goggles and will be using disposable capes for clients.

A departure from taking walk-ins, her clientele must now be scheduled at certain intervals and only one customer at a time will be allowed inside.

She’s received a positive response from the community.

“People want to feel normal again and part of feeling right is getting a haircut,” she says.

At the Connecticut River Museum at 67 Main Street in Essex, planning is underway for the museum’s outdoor programming including sailing trips aboard the Onrust, a re-creation of the ship built by Dutch Captain Adriaen Block in 1614.

“At some point, not necessarily May 20, but within a week or so [of that date], she’ll be ready for sailing with a limited number of passengers maintaining social distancing,” said Interim Executive Director Tom Wilcox.

Other tentatively scheduled outdoor activities include a Shanties and Sails! concert series each Tuesday in June and a Thursdays on the Dock summer concert series starting with the U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Band on July 9.

“We’re going to make sure that our people are safe and that visitors remain safe as well,” said Wilcox. “We’re all kind of breaking new ground here to see how this goes.”

Although plans are developing for possibly opening the indoor gallery exhibits when it is safe to do so, the museum has decided to cancel its summer camps for school-aged children.

“We’re going to take this summer off and rethink and retool [our summer camp programming],” said Wilcox. “We will come back next summer with new and improved, and more fun summer camps.”

For restaurants planning to reopen on May 20, many are scrambling to go from take-out only to expanding their capacities to serve customers outside.

“Right now, we’re sketching out table plans on our deck,” said Curtis Johnson, general manager for Scotch Plains Tavern in Essex. “We’re only zoned to put a few patio tables within a fenced in area on our deck. The six-foot spacing really cuts back on that [the amount of seating]. We’re hoping to put tables along the full deck, but we need approval on zoning.”

Local zoning regulations, which could limit outdoor seating and slow the process of outdoor dining expansion, was one of the subjects of Lamont’s May 12 executive order No. 7MM.

With 7MM, Lamont increases the speed with which municipalities can change their zoning laws and creates an approval process for restaurants “to get fast-tracked permission to create or expand outdoor dining areas,” according to the governor’s May 12 written statement.

Essex Zoning Officer Joe Budrow, in updating the Essex Economic Development Commission at its May 13 meeting, described the zoning regulations under Lamont’s executive order as much “looser.”

As an example, he cited the use of parking lots for outdoor dining.

“A restaurant may submit a site plan that can be sketched or at least sensible for me to look at and should they look to put tables within a parking area; I am not to tell them you can’t get rid of parking spaces,” Budrow said. “So long as a site plan makes sense, I will approve pretty much any layout that [Essex Director of Health] Lisa Fasulo, the building official, and the fire marshal say is sensible.”

At Scotch Plains Tavern, Johnson says he appreciates the community’s support during the pandemic and thinks the state’s decision to allow restaurants to reopen in a limited way on May 20 is a step in the right direction.

“It will be great to see customers again even in this new environment,” said Johnson. “We’re making sure they [customers] are safe, and our employees, they are safe. It’s getting the ball rolling.”

The Giannopoulos family, which operates the Brushmill by the Waterfall restaurant in Chester, is also ready to welcome customers back. They plan to reopen for takeout and outdoor dining on May 20.

In a written statement provided to the Courier on May 12 by Peter Giannopoulos, the family states their displeasure with the “conditions the state has imposed on us.”

“Our opinion is Governor Lamont’s new Reopen Connecticut rules are unclear and unhelpful to local businesses. They serve only to delay the restarting of our economy and are more theatrics than safety. These rules are vague and poorly thought out, nothing like normal health codes. They prohibit us from operating our five large, separated, indoor, dining areas. We could easily accommodate parties spaced well over six feet apart in these areas,” according to the written statement.

For hair salons, reactions have been mixed regarding the inclusion of this type of business as part of phase one.

Chester First Selectman Lauren Gister referenced the issues unique to hair salons at the town’s May 13 Board of Selectman meeting.

“I don’t know what is going to come down the pike on that, but everyone is aware that [hair salons] being part of phase one is problematic in many ways, not the least of which is the requirements for the kind of [personal protective equipment] and how exactly do you do those kinds of jobs fully suited up even if you get the equipment,” said Gister.

Leah Kisselbrack of Leah’s Bella Vita hair salon in Deep River is in agreement.

“I don’t believe we should be part of phase one,” she says in a video posted to her web site.

“Although I know that we’re going to have to get back to work eventually, which I can’t wait to do, it is too soon. There’s still a lot to learn and we still have rising numbers. It’s not safe,” she adds.

Information on the rules and certification system for the first phase of the state’s reopening can be accessed on the DECD website at portal.ct.gov/DECD.


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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