Ferry Street, Newark's pulsing bar and restaurant artery, resembled a street in a ghost town on Monday night after a regional declaration of coronavirus restrictions shut down bars and strictly regulated restaurants in a neighborhood renowned for its ethnic cuisine and bustling nightlife.
"Who's been through something like this? We've been through a lot, but there's no end in sight this time," said Demetrios Frangias, who helps runs run the Andros Diner, a restaurant at the intersection of Ferry Street and Wilson Avenue in the Ironbound, run by his family for decades, as he assessed the rows of empty seats, a symptom of the coronavirus outbreak. "We don't know if the worst is yet to come, or if the worst is past us."
A pervasive sense of dread spread over the Ironbound as the normally full bars and restaurants emptied out as the curfew clock designed to halt the spread of the coronavirus started ticking.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, acting in concert with the governors of neighboring New York and close-by Connecticut, declared that all casinos, bars, movie theaters, nightclubs, performing arts centers and gyms must shut down at 8 p.m. Monday. The new mandates state that people can no longer go to a restaurant to dine in, but restaurants can still provide delivery and takeout. The businesses must remain closed until the state governments say they can reopen.
Other "non-essential" businesses can remain open during the day but have to close each day at 8 p.m., and owners must make sure they have no more than 50 people inside their establishments and must ensure that people stay 6 feet apart as part of a general "social distancing" campaign meant to slow down the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Essential businesses necessary for the public’s health and welfare, such as supermarkets and grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices and gas stations, may remain open past 8 p.m.
Up and down Ferry Street, store owners and bar keepers braced for the economic unknown as New Jersey prepared to play its part in aggressively stemming a health crisis that has claimed three reported deaths in the Garden State so far, with the number of cases statewide climbing to 178.
"Everyone is scared. The situation is very weird," said Luis Lopes, one of the owners of Adega Grill, a popular Portuguese and Spanish restaurant located on Ferry Street between Madison and Monroe Streets, as a Brazilian bartender continued to serve strong caipirinhas, her country's national drink, while news of a weakening global economy flickered dismally on TVs behind her. "We've been in business and have been growing at this location for 20 years. Now, we just want to survive."
The same survival instinct was found down the block at Lisbon Wines & Liquors, where those behind the counter helping customers stock up on booze took time to take stock of their lives as the global total of coronavirus-related deaths rose to over 7,000 people.
"I'm here because I had to work, but if I could, I would have been home a week ago," said Sabino Araujo, who wrapped up bottles of Portuguese and Spanish red wine to go while pointing to the rising COVID-19 death toll in Italy and other European countries. "We are all at risk right now, no matter what. I hope that we shut down completely. And why? Because that way, I'll still be here in two weeks to tell the story."
At the Andros Diner, the staff started another giant pot of coffee to keep at least once place in Newark fueled and ready to fight.
"We're a family. There are at least 30 people working here who depend on this little place," said Demetrios Frangias as he determined with his uncle Tasos to keep his family diner open, no matter what happens, bright and early at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, as the Monday night 8 p.m. curfew descended on Ferry Street. "This is our community. People are used to our food here for decades, and they look forward to coming here. These are our people. We're staying open because of them."