Local restaurants opened for business at half-capacity Wednesday as the Capital Region entered phase 3 of the state’s economic reopening process.
Personal care businesses such as nail salons and tattoo parlors were also cleared to resume serving customers.
Phase 3 lifts restrictions on indoor dining for local restaurants, many of which have been open for curbside pick-up or outdoor dining since the beginning of the month when phase 2 took effect.
Restaurants may now seat customers up to 50% capacity, as long as tables are 6 feet apart, and customers may remove their masks while seated.
The staff at Pomodoro’s Italian Eatery in Catskill spent the past week sanitizing and dusting the dining room after being closed to customers for three months, owner Nathan Pieruzzi said.
The restaurant’s owners didn’t anticipate how long the dining room would be closed when they shuttered it in late March.
“[We packed up] thinking we would only be closed for a little while, Pieruzzi said.
Like many restaurants, Pomodoro’s has reconfigured its seating, blocked off booths and put out hand sanitizer to comply with state regulations for the phased reopening.
Pieruzzi said he hopes that customers have confidence in the restaurant to keep them safe during the return to in-person dining.
“I want people to know they can trust us,” he said, noting that Pomodoro’s has weathered the COVID-19 crisis after 34 years in business.
Despite the long-standing relationship the restaurant has with the Catskill community, Pieruzzi said he is worried about asking customers to wear masks, noting that some people with medical conditions may not be able to do so safely.
It can be difficult to enforce the mask rule without infringing on a customer’s privacy, he said.
Tom Crowell, owner of Chatham Brewing, echoed Pieruzzi’s apprehension at the possibility of having to refuse service to customers who do not comply with state regulations.
Crowell said he would be on hand at the brewery to enforce the protocols and direct traffic, taking the burden off staff members who might not feel comfortable facing non-compliant customers.
Following guidance issued by the state, Chatham Brewing has eliminated its bar seating and reduced its number of tables, both indoors and outside on the patio. The brewery has also temporarily scaled back its menu.
The brewery has kept up with reopening information released by Forward NY and the Columbia Comeback initiative, as well as the New York State Brewers Association, which has helped clarify state rules that seem confusing or contradictory, Crowell said.
As part of the new state guidelines for food services, restaurants must space out tables and separate dining parties in communal areas, directives that present challenges to businesses designed for social gathering.
Enforcement can be difficult, given that the hospitality industry is geared toward accommodating customers and defusing situations, said F. Michael Tucker, president of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation and co-chairman of the Columbia Comeback initiative.
The Columbia Comeback leader said businesses and their customers need to be vigilant at maintaining distance and to prevent another shutdown.
“It is not about doing what we are told, but about doing what we all know needs to be done to prevent a relapse,” Tucker said.
In addition to indoor restaurant service, phase 3 also allows for the reopening of grooming services, including nail salons and tattoo parlors.
Fawn’s Leap Tattoo in Catskill is in the midst of rescheduling three months of canceled appointments, but the tattoo studio will remain closed until next week.
The three tattoo artists were recently tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting their results, owner Emma Heartquist said.
After three months of shutdown, customers are anxious to schedule appointments, Heartquist said.
“People are hot on it, they want to get tattoos right now,” she said. “It is almost as bad as haircuts.”
Despite the high demand, Heartquist said she is being cautious to ensure that the tattoo studio is adequately prepared to reopen.
The Columbia Comeback initiative, created by Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell last month, has been helping local businesses prepare for reopening. The committee held a webinar on Monday about phase 3 regulations.
The Buy In Greene initiative is helping Greene County businesses navigate the reopening phases, with an emphasis on keeping business owners informed with the most up-to-date information, said Teri Weiss, director of business marketing for Greene County.
Businesses need support because the state guidelines can change on a daily basis and some decisions are left up to individual businesses or municipalities, Weiss said.
“It has been a stressful situation for everybody,” she said. “Businesses are struggling to stay open and stay afloat, as well as the personal struggles of staying safe and healthy.”
The state’s reopening plan has four phases, with economic regions waiting about two weeks between phases to monitor the infection rate and spread of the virus. Phase 4 includes recreational and educational services.
Tucker said the state has the power to close down certain areas within regions if infections spike.
“Reopening is trial by error, with the ultimate goal of staying safe,” Tucker said. “The focus should be on common sense.”
Greene County residents can access resources at www.buyingreene.com, which has a pop-up window offering information for business owners from the Greene County Economic Development Corporation.
Columbia County residents can find resources from Columbia Comeback page at www.columbiacomeback.com/