By Ethan Resnik
New Jersey has reopened indoor dining, movie theaters and entertainment venues following a six-month pause and a lengthy delay in reopening plans.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Sept. 4 that both restaurants and movie theaters can open up at 25 percent capacity with strict social distancing measures and required face coverings, according to NBC4.
Additionally, tables have to be six feet apart and customers have to keep their mask on until their food has arrived. All staff have to wear masks at all times, and all restaurants have to be heavily sanitized. Despite these challenges, restaurant owners are eager to reopen.
“It’s about time, at some point [Governor Murphy] has to let us work,” restaurant owner Costas Kaifas told NBC4.
The decision to open indoor dining was much needed for struggling restaurants owners. It is predicted that by January 2021, as many 8,700 of the state’s 25,000 restaurants will permanently close their doors, according to The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
Even after the six-month pause, some restaurants are struggling to attract customers. Some restaurant owners fear their restaurants are going to close, leading them to pin the blame on Murphy for his decisions and delays, according to NBC4.
“I don’t understand how the government can dictate what I can do. For the better good, for a little while, (that’s) one thing. Six months is not a little while,” said Nick Toscanos to NBC4.
Some business owners have taken opening indoor dining into their own hands. In June, a Jersey Shore movie theater opened against guidelines at the time, then was forced to close again after the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office cited it, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Many people, including State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, have been critical of Governor Murphy’s timetable of reopening businesses, with his criticism going back to April, according to a NJ.com.
“Delaware’s open for dining and we’re not,” Senate President Sweeney said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Pennsylvania was selling cars before we were, you look at where barber shops opened and we were late on that, too, people have cars, and if people want a service, they’re going to go get it.”
New Jersey restaurant owners have been doing anything they can to stay open, with many turning to takeout and delivery, setting up mini-markets in their dining rooms, offering groceries to go, selling liquor for home consumption and, of course, outside dining, according to NorthJersey.com.
“When we shut down, we had bills that were $30,000 to $60,000 for liquor and food,” said Salvatore Santonello, the owner of the Lamp Post Inn in Sussex County, to NorthJersey.com “It’s hard to pay some of those older bills when you’re open only for outdoor dining and takeout. I’d like us to be able to seat more, but I’m not going to complain — 25 percent is better than nothing.”
Back in June, according to NorthJersey.com, Gov. Murphy announced that indoor dining would reopen on July 2, but ultimately did not go through with this plan, citing worries about spreading the virus and other states rising in cases at the time.