Crowds were light in Rehoboth and Dewey June 1, as Delaware entered the first day of Phase 1 economic reopening.
In Dewey, The Starboard owner Steve “Monty” Montgomery said he had extra staff on hand because so much sanitizing is required.
“It feels like the first day of a new restaurant,” Montgomery said. “We’re totally overstaffed, but we’ll figure it out.”
Montgomery applauded Dewey commissioners’ decision to allow a temporary expansion of seating in parking lots; Starboard patrons can now eat under a tent in the parking lot in tables spaced 8 feet apart. He said the town also allotted to-go parking spots for restaurants offering take-out.
Reservations must be made either online or at the kiosk outside the restaurant so people don’t gather outside.
“We are offering table condiments by request, and wipe them down between customers, and we also have disposable condiments for people who would rather use them,” he said. “We’re using disposable menus and have disposable face masks available if anyone doesn’t have one; they need one on in restaurants during Phase 1.”
Sporting a Starboard face mask, Montgomery said his employees lost a huge amount of their summer revenue, after missing out on opening weekend in March, Memorial Day and Running of the Bull, which may be held at a later date, but not in June.
“Our bartenders often make $1,000 a day those days,” he said. “We’ve had strong carryout business the past couple months, but even that’s only 10 percent of normal sales the same time last year. But, our intent is to do this right, so we can continue to build confidence in our customers, so they’re reassured it’s safe and come back.”
Across the street at Woody’s Dewey Beach, owner Jimmy O’Conor said he was a little nervous but excited to have people in chairs again.
“We’re confident people will come back,” he said. “It will just be a little different.”
With social distancing measures in place, O’Conor said, he lost two tables inside and three on the deck. He said it wasn’t worth it to expand seating into the parking lot, because he would only be able to fit one table. Reservations are already full for several days, he said.
“We want to do it slow and right, so people feel comfortable, and we want people to be safe,” he said. “We’re going to have good weather this week; I hope people will follow the rules.”
O’Conor said support from his customers has been amazing. “We’ve been lucky to stay busy.”
At Blackwall Hitch in Rehoboth, general manager Zach Diogo said he was thankful he can extend seating onto the sidewalk.
“We’ve got 32 more seats at eight tables, all 8 feet apart outside,” Diogo said. “This really threw us a curveball, but we feel strongly it will be one of our strongest seasons.”
Susan Kehoe, managing partner for Browseabout Books, said being closed for 10 weeks was devastating. The company tried to adjust by updating its website for mail orders and offering customized gift boxes. She said Browseabout sold a lot of jigsaw puzzles and workbooks for kids.
“As a bookstore, we were not deemed an essential business,” Kehoe said. “So many small businesses could have risen to the challenge to provide a safe shopping environment, but we were not given the chance. All business was directed to Walmart and Amazon and other chains. Why were they given the greenlight and opportunity to sell the very same things we can sell in our shop? We certainly would've been a safer option for shopping than Walmart.”
Kehoe said Browseabout received a federal grant through the CARES Act to help get through the last few months. Now that the store can reopen, Browseabout is offering curbside pickup and can allow 60 shoppers inside at a time.
The store has been rearranged, Kehoe said; there is one entrance door and one exit door. Masks will be required – disposables will be offered to anyone who needs one – and hand sanitizer is provided throughout the store.
“We've survived streetscape, the rise of discount and chain bookstores and Amazon,” Kehoe said. “We are flexible and feisty, and we will not give up without a fight. We hope that customers will understand that this won't be exactly the same shopping experience that they are used to. Safety must absolutely come first, but we are doing what we can to ensure that the spirit of Browseabout remains the same.”
Jeff Gosnear, vice president of Grotto Pizza, said the chain laid off 65 percent of its staff because it had no dining room or bar seating. He said Grotto plans to reopen dining rooms and patios at 30 percent capacity, as mandated by the state, and has rehired a majority of the staff.
Gosnear said Grotto has implemented a reservation call list at its website, grottopizza.com, to eliminate people congregating at hostess stands. He said daily cleaning practices are being enhanced, and each table will be disinfected after use.
Only paper menus and disposable condiments will be available, Gosnear said. Tables will be 8 feet apart, and there will be no seating or business at the bars until further notice, he said.
It was quiet in Lewes June 1, as most retailers opened their doors and put out sandwich board signs welcoming shoppers. In partnership with the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and American Legion Post 17 Auxiliary, the city has started a downtown ambassador program. Volunteers in red shirts from the auxiliary will greet visitors, provide information about safe shopping and direct people to stores or restaurants. The program will run for as long as necessary.
Murt Foos, president of the auxiliary, and Nancy Bush, volunteer coordinator, walked the streets June 1 talking with business owners and visitors on the first day of Phase 1.
NBC News and MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin, who was set to report live from Rehoboth June 1, was reassigned to cover events in Washington, D.C., related to George Floyd protests, a Today show official said.
Nick Roth contributed to this report.