‘We’re sick of being locked up’: Patrons relish dining out in Norwalk again
NORWALK — It’s not exactly the type of welcome Dave Studwell and Rob Moss had hoped to give their customers Wednesday evening after being closed for two months.
The co-owners of Washington Prime in South Norwalk were taking extra precautions on the first day of outdoor dining by taking the temperatures of all staff and customers as they arrived with no-touch thermometers. Anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees will not be allowed on the premises.
“I think a lot of people are going to be adverse to it … but we’re doing anything we can to be safe,” Studwell said.
Washington Prime, which is only serving patrons with reservations, is among more than 20 Norwalk restaurants that have been approved so far for outdoor dining during the first phase of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re just kind of hoping everything kind of gets back to normal as soon as possible,” said Studwell, whose restaurant had been completely closed — not even offering takeout — since March 15.
There appeared to be a steady stream of patrons for lunch and dinner at Norwalk’s open restaurants.
“We’re sick of being locked up,” said Norwalk resident Mersini Foustellis, who dined Wednesday evening outside Bandido Mexican Restaurant.
Others were happy to support the local businesses.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Norwalk resident David Cruz said while dining at Public Wine Bar. “I’m here to support the local businesses, which I consider great people. … They’re out there risking it all to create a better city for us and I want to support that.”
To support businesses along Washington Street, Mayor Harry Rilling has approved the installation of concrete barriers along the south side of the street to allow the full use of the sidewalk for outdoor dining and retail. The barriers will be installed on Thursday to use beginning over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The barriers, which will remain in place through the summer, will maintain two-way traffic, but will block off parking spaces on the south side to allow more space for outdoor dining and retail. A pedestrian walkway will be available between the sidewalk and concrete barriers. On the north side of Washington Street, all of the spots will be free 15-minute parking to help support businesses along the street.
O’Neill’s Irish Pub has converted its entire upper garage deck to outdoor seating, stringing overhead lights and was waiting for a shipment of green outdoor carpeting to roll out in the dining area.
“Worst-case scenario is the weather doesn’t cooperate,” O’Neill said. “We are dependent on the weather right now.”
He expects an early run on fish and chips — a favorite among customers — and pints of Guinness.
“We get to see a lot of our regulars and friends and more who we haven’t seen in two months,” O’Neill said. “We can show them that we can do this in a safe and responsible way and give them confidence, and give other people confidence. … I don’t think you can be too cautious.”
O’Neill said he has empathy for smaller establishments that lack access to a parking lot and said the pressure is on the larger places like his to get people comfortable dining out.
“I feel bad for the ones that…can’t do this, because they have to wait another few weeks,” O’Neill said. “It’s all the more reason that we’ve got to do it right.”
As of Wednesday, 22 Norwalk restaurants had been approved for permits to allow outdoor dining, the only dining style allowed under the governor’s executive order for the first phase. Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday the second phase, scheduled to start on June 20, would include indoor dining.
Some retail establishments, which were also allowed to reopen with social distancing measures in place, were not as quick to open their doors on Wednesday. Kohl’s at the Darinor Plaza on Connecticut Avenue remained closed and plans to open on Thursday. However, several customers came at 9 a.m. Wednesday, hoping for the doors to open.
“Tell them I’m pissed,” said Heather Baldwin, of Norwalk, who took a cab over to get herself some much-needed sneakers. “Stores are supposed to open. I need sneakers.”
Bed Bath & Beyond on Westport Avenue also remained closed. The store plans to start curbside pickup on Friday, but has no immediate plans to open the store.
Aitoro Appliance had been doing curbside pickup and delivery, but now its doors are open.
“It feels good,” said A.J. Aitoro, sales associate. “We’re ready for business.”
“We’ve been cleaning like crazy, making sure we’ve had proper (protections) and adhering to every guideline we’ve had that has been sent out,” added Jason Bernstein, sales associate.
Retail establishments reopening had to self-certify with the Department of Economic and Community Development, but not with the city unless they wanted to offer outdoor retail. The city launched its streamlined outdoor permitting process on Monday to allow more establishments to serve patrons.
The SoNo Collection reopened Wednesday morning with just a few customers stopping by the eight merchants that opened. The mall’s anchor stores, including Nordstrom’s, are doing curbside pickup and are expected to open early next week, according to a mall spokeswoman. The decision to reopen is up to each of the tenants, with more stores expected to reopen during the next two weeks, the spokeswoman said.
While Calf Pasture Beach is operating at half capacity, it still can accommodate 400 to 500 cars under these conditions, said lifeguard and park ambassador Alissa Pena. Around noon Wednesday, Pena counted only about 75 cars.
“There really aren’t as many people as we expected there would be,” she said. “As the week goes on, we’ll get more and more people. I’ve seen a lot of masks and people are doing well with social distancing. Also, we’re giving out masks if people want them.”
Police will be monitoring parks and beaches, and are doing normal patrols around the city, and the health department will be conducting spot checks and inspections to ensure public safety and adherence to social distancing. However, the city is also asking for the public’s assistance in reporting reopening violations by calling the police non-emergency line at 203-854-3000.