In the coming weeks, capacity restrictions will be relaxed for indoor dining and entertainment venues.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that arts and entertainment venues can open at 33% capacity April 2, for a maximum of 100 people indoors and up to 200 people outdoors. On Sunday, Cuomo announced that indoor dining in restaurants outside of New York City can increase to 75% on March 19.
While the lessened restrictions are a move in the right direction, there may not be much impact on local businesses, Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman said.
“Obviously, any time that restrictions are lifted and businesses have the opportunity to do more, it will be positive in terms of our economic growth and recovery,” Friedman said. “The restaurant change, while a positive step — obviously it means our infection rate is coming down and vaccination rate is going up, which will be vital to a total reopening — it’s not very consequential for our local restaurants because unless you have like a banquet hall or giant warehouse, going to 75% capacity while keeping 6 feet between tables and adhering to other protocols is not practical. There’s just not that much square footage in a restaurant. I’d be shocked if there are too many, if any, restaurants that will be able to get to 75% and still maintain health and safety protocols.”
Carol Blaes, owner-manager of Barnwood Restaurant in Catskill, agreed.
“I don’t know if we can take any more with the 6-foot rule,” Blaes said.
Every other table in the restaurant is seated to maintain social distancing, she said.
“We’re still pretty much restricted by the 6-foot rule, but we will look at it and see what we can do,” Blaes said. “I don’t know if they increased the capacity per party. Before we could only have groups up to 10 people, I’m not sure if that’s going to change or not.”
The national restaurant industry ended 2020 with sales that were $240 billion below the pre-pandemic forecast, according to the National Restaurant Association.
By Dec. 1, more than 110,000 eateries were closed, either temporarily or permanently.
The industry was down 2.5 million jobs by the end of the year.
Friedman was glad to see more opportunities for entertainment venues, which have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
“It’s very positive,” he said. “Obviously, our wedding industry and our entertainment venues have been extremely and heavily impacted, including outdoor amusement like Zoom Flume, which hasn’t been able to open since 2019. These are businesses that I’m sure are welcoming the opportunity to open at least one-third capacity.”
Friedman is hopeful the higher vaccination rates will mean fewer restrictions for businesses.
“Based upon what we’re seeing, if we bite the bullet for another two to three months, we should have the vast majority vaccinated or enough to create herd immunity by June or early July,” he said. “If we hang in till then, we should see at lot more restrictions lifted and be able to get back to some sort of normalcy. Of course, I’d very much like it to be all open, but we can’t do that safely yet.”
Tambra Dillon, executive director of Hudson Hall, is looking forward to possibly reopening the entertainment venue in the coming months.
“We believe the guidelines translate to Hudson Hall could open with a capacity of 100 people,” Dillon said. “We would probably call [Director] Jack Mabb at the Health Department just to double confirm and get his blessing for anything that we may do. We’re watching everything every carefully with COVID.”
Dillon is hopeful Hudson Hall will be able to open for live events at some point in the summer, but a definitive date has not been set because they want to keep watch on the infection rate.
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site will be taking advantage of the increased capacity this spring.
“In April, we will be launching a new outdoor nighttime walk-thru event called ‘Spring Lights,’” Thomas Cole National Historic Site Executive Director Betsy Jacks said. “There will be timed entry and the event will adhere to New York state outdoor capacity guidelines. ‘Spring Lights’ will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting April 16 with free Community Fridays every week. We are still working on our plan for the museum interiors.”
Staff at the Thomas Cole House are excited to open their grounds to the public with a new event this spring, Jacks said.
“We plan to launch ‘Spring Lights’ online reservations next week,” she said. “We look forward to welcoming our community in the gardens and grounds of the historic site for a new, fun experience of lights and sound celebrating Cole’s love of nature.”
The owner of Moto Coffee Machine, in Hudson, looks forward to the increased capacity limit.
“Obviously people want a sense of normalcy,” owner Antony Katz said. “They want to be able to go inside places and in Hudson there are very few places that have been big enough to let people inside and still establish proper social distancing. An increase in capacity will mean I’ll be able to accommodate more people and they won’t need to take whatever they are buying outside in the cold.”
The increase in capacity will likely make people happier and generate an increase in sales, Katz said.
Some local establishments have had to reconfigure their business model during the COVID-19 pandemic to be able to meet state guidelines.
Chris’ Cafe in Valatie went from being a restaurant with servers and table service to a to-go business model where customers have the option to eat their boxed meal in the restaurant or take it elsewhere.
“We’ve actually been able to switch to take-out and kind of work more of a cafe situation, where the food is boxed up to go, but you are able to sit down in the restaurant,” Nick Jennings, owner of Chris’ Cafe, said. “I’ve actually liked it so now I’m kind of caught in a different place where the increase in diners allowed in the restaurant is then going to put pressure on me to revert back to the old way, which was more pressure and wasn’t as easy for the restaurant to function.”
The restaurant always had a vibrant takeout business, Jennings said. Prior to the pandemic in-house dining consisted of lunch combos that are not as profitable because the costs are lower. With a take-out-based restaurant, servers are not needed at the tables and there are not as many dishes to wash.