SOUTHINGTON — Town officials are working on ways to allow businesses to expand outdoor dining in anticipation of fewer state restrictions on commerce starting May 20.
The town’s long-term recovery committee heard from business owners during its first meeting Thursday. Expedited approval for tents in parking lots, patios and sidewalk tables were all being considered, although restaurant owners who participated said take-out is their top priority.
Michael DelSanto, recovery committee chairman and a Town Council member, said he hopes to inform and help local businesses.
“We’re going to listen to you guys, we’re going to work as hard as we can to make things work. The last thing we want to do is hinder your business,” DelSanto told owners during the video conference meeting.
Gov. Ned Lamont may allow outdoor dining at restaurants starting May 20. The announcement led to a host of questions, such as requirements for masks and bathroom access.
Shane Lockwood, Plainville-Southington Health District director, told business owners that he was waiting on more clarification from the state. He’s pushed to allow customers to use restaurant bathrooms rather than portable bathrooms.
“We’ve stressed that bathrooms should stay open,” he said. “We’re not going to limit all contact with other people.”
Rob Philips, town planner, said there’s been a large increase in permit applications. He will prioritize business applications for tents or other temporary outdoor seating arrangements.
“Any of this starting up will be a priority for us, to get the local economy going again,” Philips said.
Lamont also suggested some personal care services reopen later this month.
Todd Zurell, co-owner of Salon Zurell, said he needed to know requirements for masks, gloves or other equipment well before May 20.
“We can’t be prepared for that unless we have what we need,” he said. “Who can we put pressure on to get the proper information?”
Lockwood said he’s also eager to hear those requirements and provide them to area businesses. Thus far there hasn’t been clarification, although for salons Lockwood said it’ll likely be similar to the disinfecting procedures they already use.
“We’re in unprecedented times,” he said.
Lockwood was also unsure about whether the requirement to wear masks will be in effect after outdoor dining is allowed, a question from Tavern 42 and Anthony Jack’s owner Cheryl Moran.
Other leaders who asked questions at the meeting included Mary DeCroce, Southington Cultural Community Arts director, Andy Bawa, owner of B&V Jewelers and Joanne Kelleher, Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington director.
Chris Conlon, owner of Smokin’ With Chris, is still debating whether to open his patio or offer other outdoor dining.
“I’m hearing from a lot of customers that they won’t come down and sit outside,” he said. “It may not work for us at all.”