Dewey restaurant owners: Restrictions hard to accept

New Year’s Eve parties canceled; businesses thankful for support
December 23, 2020

Dewey Beach business owners say a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants enacted Dec. 14 is unfair and even likely to encourage house parties when the bars close.

Dewey Business Partnership president and The Starboard owner Steve “Monty” Montgomery said he would choose a curfew over being closed down, but he hoped the measure was short-term.

“We’ve done every single thing we’ve been asked to do, and they continue to add more restrictions,” he said. “It’s hard to accept. The reason the restaurant industry gets picked on is we’re the only industry where masks come off.”

The most recent emergency order also further limited capacity at all businesses to 30 percent. Montgomery typically closes part of The Starboard during the off-season, but left all areas open this year to ensure adequate spacing between tables. 

“The staff are making less because their sections are smaller,” he said. “If we were allowed to be at 100 percent capacity right now, we would still probably be only about 30 percent full because people are scared.”

The Starboard’s annual New Year’s Eve party will not occur. With a capacity of 660 people, The Starboard is now restricted to 150 patrons inside, plus outdoor seating in a heated tent that has one side open to allow for airflow, he said. 

“The tent in the parking lot has been a lifesaver, a true lifesaver,” he said. 

Smaller restaurants are really hurting, he said, because at 30 percent capacity, they can only admit 15 or 20 patrons, tops. Customers have been very supportive and tipping well throughout the pandemic, he said.

“We’ve sold a lot more food than alcohol in 2020,” he said. “And, we’ve sold more face masks than T-shirts!”

Although it’s been a challenging year for any industry, Montgomery said, his heart bleeds for upstate restaurant owners.

“They’re struggling,” he said. “We at the beach are fortunate we had a summer season. This winter, we’re not going to make money no matter what we do. We just want to keep people working and paying bills, and be ready for when the good times come back.”

Gov. John Carney’s stated reasoning for the 10 p.m. curfew – that as the night goes on and people have more to drink, they pay less attention to protective measures, gather close and don’t wear masks – doesn’t sit well with Woody’s Dewey Beach owner and Dewey Business Partnership board member Jimmy O’Conor.

O’Conor said he foresees an increase in house parties when people are forced to leave bars and restaurants, where they must wear masks and socially distance, at 10 p.m. An 11 p.m. curfew would have been better, he said, because people are more likely to go home at that time rather than continue to gather.

“It boggles my mind they have the power to shut us down with no evidence,” O’Conor said. “It’s unfair. We got targeted in the summer, too. We’re not the culprit. My heart goes out to the restaurants that aren’t going to make it.”

Also aggravating, O’Conor added, is seeing that stores like Walmart and Target are able to expand their hours during the holiday season. Woody’s typically closes at 1 a.m., he said, so bartenders and cooks are losing the most hours and income.

“Someone called to ask what we’re doing for New Year’s Eve,” O’Conor said. “I told them nothing in the whole state. Some restaurants rely on New Year’s Eve. This will be my first New Year’s Eve off in more than 20 years.”

The new restriction also calls for restaurants to display signage on the table stating that parties must be from the same household. 

“Enforcing the mask part is OK,” O’Conor said. “But, trying to enforce that all people seated at a table are from the same household? We’re not going to check they have the same address; that’s just absurd.”

With all events canceled due to the pandemic, Dewey Business Partnership has not generated any revenue this year, O’Conor said. 

The partnership typically sponsors annual events such as the Winter Gala and New Year’s Day Dewey Dunk to raise money for movies and bonfires on the beach, the Easter Egg scoop and Great American Summer Celebration.

O’Conor keeps a supply of rapid COVID-19 tests for staff, who are instructed to let him know immediately if they feel sick at all. The employee party won’t be held this year, either.

“It’s still nice to see their eyes light up when I give them their bonus check,” he said. “I’m thankful to be open. I have good staff and good customers. I’ve been blessed in my life; I’m hopeful for a better spring.”

Love Seed Mama Jump lead singer Rick Arzt said he has been playing New Year’s Eve in Dewey for at least 30 years.

“The last 27 of them we’ve played The Rudder party or even the BayCenter in Ruddertowne back in the ‘90s,” Arzt said. “That’s a bummer and an incredibly odd feeling not to be working on New Year’s Eve. It’s just one more very strange thing on the list of many strange things in a very strange year.”

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