Ridgefield’s reopening will be slow and careful

The reopening will not be easy, or fast.

But it will happen — carefully, cautiously. Safety will be the top priority, as the town tries to put COVID-19 behind it. And Ridgefield’s shops and salons, its retailers and restaurants, will get back to serving customers, selling merchandise, being in business.

“First and foremost is the health and safety of not only the employees but the consumers,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who led a Reopen Ridgefield committee that has laid out local guidelines to compliment rules issued by the state.

“We want to be sure that the message concerning consumer safety is loud and clear: We’re not just doing this for the businesses, but we’re doing it for the residents of Ridgefield, to create as safe an environment as we possibly can.”

So, masked employees will cater to customers with covered faces. Most payment should be “touchless.” People will stay six feet apart.

Signs and polite employees will remind people that masks or other face coverings are not optional — they’re required for everyone who doesn’t have a medical reason not to wear a mask.

“This isn’t going to be easy,” said Selectman Bob Hebert, also on the committee. “Not all the businesses are going to open up on May 20 — it’ll be a process.

“I’m very concerned,” Hebert said. “It’s not just Main Street. I’m concerned about he businesses that are in offices, or people that work in their homes. Are they going to be able to withstand these storms here and ultimately be able to reopen?

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be quite a few businesses that aren’t going to be able to make it unless we can get them some type of help — I’m not talking just financial,” Hebert said.

“I have talked to a number of these people and they range from being concerned to scared. And there’s just a lot of questions: What’s their legal liability if an employee or patron walks in and they end up coming down with the virus? That's a big concern.”

Committee member Wing Biddle of Urstadt Biddle, which owns most of the Main Street block north of Bailey Avenue, is also worried.

“We are very concerned about almost all of our tenants,” Biddle said. “We are standing behind them and will do our best to see that they survive. Unfortunately, unlike many businesses, we are unable to apply for any government loans and grants yet there is no reprieve from paying real estate taxes or mortgages.

“I am hopeful that the people of Ridgefield understand that they will need to shop local more than any time in history when this pandemic is over,” Biddle said. “A healthy downtown is critical for home values in town and so that downtown can continue to pay millions of dollars in school taxes.”

Steve Zemo, another landlord on the committee, was optimistic. “On more than one occasion, an owner has indicated they have invested too much of their time and energy in their business and will try their best to reopen and survive,” Zemo said.

Target date

Next Wednesday, May 20, is the date the State of Connecticut has targeted for the first phase of reopening.

In the initial phase, offices, retailers, select personal service businesses, and restaurants have the option to slowly reopen with restrictions.

The state guidelines are grouped into five sectors: hair salons and barbershops, offices, retail and malls, and two that are “outdoor only” — restaurants, and museums and zoos.

In addition to published state guidelines, and industry-specific rules, some Town of Ridgefield protocols have been developed by a working group of town officials, retailers, property owners, residents, and industry groups, to instill consumer and employee confidence, protect public health, and recover economically.

They are as follows:

A. Open at your own pace: This is the start of a slow and gradual opening of the Ridgefield economy. Open only when you are ready and employees are properly trained in new protocols. Businesses are not required to reopen on May 20.

B. Face coverings: Office, retail, and personal service businesses must require customers, clients, and employees to wear face coverings. All individuals are strongly encouraged to wear gloves. Restaurant employees must wear face coverings and gloves. Customers are required to wear face coverings when not seated at a table.

C. Restrooms: Encourage frequent hand washing. Set a schedule to frequently clean bathroom facilities. Limit the number of people using restrooms or congregating near restrooms.

D. Signs: Please print and post signs requiring customers/clients to wear face coverings and observe the Governor’s social distancing protocols. Customers not wearing face covering should be denied entry (unless medically exempt).

E. Phone and Internet ordering: Continue to encourage phone/internet pick-up of purchases. Encourage customers to pay-by-phone or contactless payment.

Questions and answers

The Reopen Ridgefield committee produced questions and answers for businesses. Here’s an abbreviated version:

Do I have to open on May 20? No. May 20, 2020, is the start of a slow and gradual reopening of the economy. Customers are asked to be understanding as businesses will not open until they feel it is safe to do so.

Where can I source face masks and gather additional information for my employees? Call the Ridgefield Hotline: 203-431-2718 weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while supplies last.

Who enforces the wearing of face coverings and other social distancing protocols? It is up to individual businesses to remind customers, clients, and employees to comply with the governor’s orders. Businesses are required to deny entry to anyone not wearing a face covering, unless medically exempt. Best practices include posting a sign on the door explaining protocols for entering. If a situation escalates, call the Ridgefield Police nonemergency number at 203-438-6531.

For adding/expanding outside dining, which town agencies need to approve? Ridgefield Health Department, 203-431-2745; Fire Marshal, 203-431-2724.

What happens if an employee or someone else in a business becomes infected (or is suspected to be infected) with COVID-19?

That person should leave work and contact their primary care provider immediately. Notify the Ridgefield Health Department 203-431-2745.

Those who are exposed should quarantine for 14 days

Businesses do not have to close, but should do a complete and thorough cleaning/sanitizing. Buildings (especially public) should be cleaned/sanitized on a regular schedule.

If I have a liquor license, can I serve alcoholic beverages outside? Yes, with a Patio Liquor License from the State Liquor Commission. Town agencies stand by to help get through local approvals as quickly as possible.

Can businesses block off parking spaces for curbside pickups? Yes. Contact your landlord and the Fire Marshal at 203-431-2724.

Who should I call for permits and questions regarding regulations? Building Department 203-431-2743; Health Department 203-431-2745.

Who should I contact if I need to make interior or exterior modifications to my business to adhere to social distancing protocols? Contact the building department at 203-431-2743 for guidance. Also check with your landlord/associations.

With other types of questions, call Town Hall’s Reopen Ridgefield Hotline at 203-431-2718, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.