Madison Restaurants, Retail Stores Headed for Gradual Reopening
This week the State of Connecticut is allowing retail stores and restaurants to begin opening in a limited capacity, and many local businesses that were forced to close down at the beginning of the pandemic are expected to slowly resume operations, though likely on a staggered timeline and with reduced capacity.
Among other things, restaurants are only allowed to serve patrons in outdoor locations, and both restaurants and retail stores can only open at 50 percent capacity.
All businesses are required to follow a self-certification process, which only asks that the owners enter basic information about their business such as address and type of service they provide, and sign a statement saying they will follow the new guidelines.
The town also sent out its own guidelines, which follow the state requirements relatively closely, though with several additions, including the recommendation that supervisors “take time to ask each employee if they are feeling healthy and well when they arrive at work,” and a stipulation that customers who cannot wear masks due to a medical condition do not have to provide documentation of that condition.
Any restaurant wanting to provide outdoor seating must submit a proposal to Planning & Economic Development Director Dave Anderson and the Madison Health Department.
According to Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eileen Banisch, many Madison businesses are still in a holding pattern as they assess their own specific needs and resources alongside the state regulations.
Banisch said that while there is certainly a hope among both the business community and residents for a return to normalcy, a lot of people are approaching any sort of reopening cautiously.
“Everyone’s excited, but a little trepidatious because it’s different, and there are a lot of rules to follow,” Banisch said.
Mixed response from Restaurants
Restaurants especially have been reticent to commit to a revamped and limited outdoor seating setup, Banisch said, though a few are planning to start opening under the new restrictions.
The state requires that restaurants place individuals six feet apart, employees wear masks, and that each restaurant implement a strict and consistent sanitizing routine, along with other conditions related to layouts, menus, and other risk factors.
The executive order additionally allows restaurants to utilize spaces that were not originally intended for outdoor seating—spaces like parking lots.
According to Banisch, these restrictions have made it difficult for many local restaurants to open, and some are waiting to see what the next phase of the reopening plan will be before they try to begin serving customers again.
Banisch said capacity limitations and space restrictions have proven frustrating for local restaurants, even those who already had outdoor seating areas.
“I think people are going to wait and see what other people are doing,” Banish said.
A handful of restaurants, including Madison Beach Hotel, had said they were exploring the possibility of having tents or using parking lots for outdoor seating, according to Banisch, though not in the immediate future.
An employee at Christy’s told The Source the restaurant plans to put around 15 tables in the parking lot in the near future, and would also be able to begin serving pre-mixed alcoholic beverages.
Retail Hoping for Success
Around retail businesses, Banisch said there was more optimism, though she still thought it was unlikely that the reopening would look like a return to normalcy, as some stores plan to sell items outside on the sidewalk and others have discussed starting with very limited hours.
“They’re just thinking safety,” she said.
Many of Madison’s retail businesses have been staying busy during the shutdown, according to Banisch, delivering their products and utilizing social media and technology to reach customers.
But now that summer is approaching, with long warm days and good weather ahead, Banisch said she expected more consumers to look for in-person shopping experiences.
“People are getting a little stir crazy—people as they’re working at home,” Banisch said. “People are anxious just to have some feeling of normalcy in their lives.”
Gift shop Walker Loden announced a grand reopening sale on its Facebook page last week, running Friday to Sunday, May 22 to 24, while clothing store The Country Shop also indicated on Facebook it would reopen May 20.
R.J. Julia Booksellers Marketing Manager Liz Bartek told The Source via email the shop would not be reopening until Tuesday, June 2, with specifics shared with the community between now and then.
The Chamber of Commerce is hoping to help by putting together a comprehensive and updated list of what local businesses are doing, including modified hours or services offered, which Banisch said she hoped to send out through the Chamber’s Facebook page and website by the end of the week.
But Banisch again said she expected the process of getting back to business to be gradual rather than large and sudden—more like a soft opening than a grand opening.
“I think it’s going to be slow. It’s not going to be a huge surge of people. I don’t see that happening on Wednesday,” she said. “I definitely see people going down there, because they’re so happy to support the local businesses.”
For updated information from the Madison Chamber of Commerce, visit madisonct.com. The town’s guidance for retail stores can be viewed at www.madisonct.org.