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COVID Restrictions to Be Eased for Local Businesses

By Barbara A. Preston l May 4, 2021

Governor Phil Murphy announces easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on businesses, gatherings, and venues—however, local restaurant owners say outdoor seating will still be necessary.

—Most capacity restrictions on businesses and restaurants will be replaced with "space available to maintain six feet of social distancing" limits in New Jersey and New York, beginning Wednesday, May 19. —Large-scale indoor-venue capacity will increase to 30 percent on Monday, May 10.

Large-scale outdoor venue capacity will increase to 33 percent on May 19. Proof of vaccination or recent negative test still required in New York, but not in New Jersey.

For restaurants in Montgomery and Rocky Hill, the "six-foot-rule," which requires a space of six feet between tables, and at the bar, means the "loosened restrictions" really will not allow for additional indoor dining capacity for most restaurants.

Montgomery Business Association Officer Cory Wingerter, who owns The Tigers Tale near routes 206 and 518, says not much will change for indoor dining at his restaurant.

"We appreciate the governor loosening restrictions, and working in concert with nearby states, but our tables are already six-foot apart," he says. "And this does not help at the bar."

The Tigers Tale bar.

"People come in and think they now can sit at the bar," he says. "They want to sit at the bar. But, we have to put six feet between customers and that's a lot of empty space at the bar."

Wingerter had been putting little orange cones on the bar, to mark the distance between guests. He allowed groups of up to four people to sit together, then he put six feet between them and the next guest or guests. Depending on whether there were single diners, couples, or groups of three or four, there could end up being a lot of empty space at the bar.

So, Wingerter invested in high-top tables to place around the bar. He says his business is running as a "non-profit." He is spending $4,000 a month on outdoor tents, plus $1,000 for furnaces. He has a meeting with his staff tomorrow to discuss possibly reconfiguring the bar area again. One thing, for sure, "local restaurants will need to keep their outdoor tables" in order to turn a profit, he says.

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Gov Murphy, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont released a joint statement on May 3 to ease COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on the region's businesses, venues, and gatherings—given significant progress in vaccinations and sustained reduction in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“With our COVID-19 numbers, particularly hospitalizations, trending decisively in the right direction and our vaccination goals within reach, now is the time to take major steps to reopen our economy and loosen both indoor and outdoor gathering and capacity restrictions," said Gov Murphy. "We’ve done this the right way, in partnership with our neighboring states of New York and Connecticut, and by allowing data, science, and public health to guide our decision-making. Over these next few weeks, I encourage all remaining eligible New Jerseyans to get vaccinated so we can continue fighting back against this virus and move toward a ‘new normal’ for ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones.”

Beniaminos Cucina at the Montgomery Center by ShopRite had been operating at about 35 percent of capacity. Owner Alison Iovine, says the governor's announcement will enable Beniaminos to expand seating to about 50 percent.

The Iovine Family, owners of Beniamino's. (Photo taken pre-pandemic.)

"We are happy they are lifting some restrictions," Alison says. "We cannot fill our space with the six-foot restriction, but we will be able to do 50 percent. And, we have outdoor tables. We want everybody to be safe, and to get back to normal."

Getting back to normal

One restaurant that has been closed for more than a year because of the pandemic is making a comeback. ONE 53, the cozy bistro serving New American dishes made using farm-fresh ingredients, in Rocky Hill plans to reopen on Tuesday, June 1.

"Most importantly, our entire staff will be fully vaccinated," according to the ONE 53 website. "As eager as we were to see all of you, ONE 53 remained closed until we could open with a large degree of certainty knowing our guests and staff will be safe. The wait is over." One 53 upgraded its HVAC system to include HEPA filters, installed new registers to circulate outside air, and added ultraviolet lighting in the ductwork to sanitize the circulating air.

Plexiglass partitions will provide additional safety precautions. "In addition to operating at 50 percent capacity inside, we will add an additional 24 to 30 seats outside," according to the website.

One 53 on Washington Street in Rocky Hill.


⁕ Beniamino’s Cucina & Pizza,

⁕ Alfonso’s Pizza,

⁕ Genteel’s Pizza,

⁕ New World Pizza and Café,

⁕ Hopewell Valley Vineyards,

⁕ Midpoint Grill,

⁕ One 53 and Lucy's Kitchen & Market, and

⁕ Sweet Gourmet Bakery,

⁕ The Tiger's Tale,

⁕ 206 Corner Deli, 2127 Route 206N, Belle Mead NJ 08502 (908.262.2308)

⁕ CafeMerica,

⁕ The Blue Bears,

⁕ Ya Ya Noodles,

⁕ Nassau Street Seafood,

>>Read Gov Murphy's Statement on easing COVID restrictions.


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