SOMERVILLE, NJ - Three months ago their glass doors were posted with hastily-scribbled signs, most of them reading "Due to the Coronavirus. . . " with the ominous news that the store or restaurant would be closed until further notice.
On Monday, those signs were long gone, a bitter memory, replaced with signs reading "Open."
Mayor Dennis Sullivan and Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, were joined Monday morning by several downtown merchants and restaurateurs to celebrate the re-opening of the downtown shopping and dining district after a three-month shutdown that has cut Main Street pedestrian traffic and cash flow to a trickle, and forced merchants to nurture alternative cash streams - online ordering for retail merchandise, and take-out orders and curbside pick-up for meals.
Gov. Phil Murphy has been easing off his executive orders which had limited social gatherings to 10 people and imposed social distancing while shutting down non-essential retail stores and restaurants soon after the OVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey in March.
The three-month death toll in New Jersey climbed to 12,676 yesterday, with 437 of those deaths occurring in Somerset County. The numbers have been decreasing, since peaking in late April, enough so that Murphy has begun to kick-start the economy by permitting more businesses to re-open.
New Jersey has entered Phase 2 of its six-step re-opening, with business owners hopeful that Phase 3 will be coming soon.
Restaurants had been given permission to begin take-out and curbside pick-up weeks ago, which has now led to outdoor dining only, with space restrictions.
Restaurants have been scrambling to file local permits for outdoor dining, and on the state level with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for permits to serve alcohol outdoors. Restaurants are still prohibited from serving indoors.
Many chose to open for outdoor service yesterday - Savor, Mannion's Irish Pub & Restaurant, King Tut's Egyptian restaurant, Division Street Cafe, even the Sunset Luncheonette at the corner of East Main Street and South Bridge had two tables squeezed in front of the store. The Phoenix Cafe, a popular breakfast spot, will also begin outdoor service this week, and will extend their hours in to the evening and serve dinners.
Others, like Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro will wait until the weekend before they begin to serve.
Because most restaurants have limited space for Main Street dining, some are looking at converting their parking lots in the back of their restaurants to accommodate ore tables and chairs.
Retail stores have also been given permission to re-open, with occupancy and spacing protocols required.