MORRISTOWN, NJ - Morristown is vibrant again now that the lockdown has been eased. South Street is full of traffic, sidewalks are full of people and the restaurants are open, serving outside. It feels almost like business as usual.
“I feel very relaxed,” said Caroline Stram of Chatham, as she sat outside the Tavern Grill on a bustling South Street, where it seemed everyone was finally enjoying themselves on Tuesday, the day most restaurants started serving curbside.
When the pandemic hit, small businesses were hit hard. In Morristown, that was especially true for the many restaurants and bars in town. Everyone had to scramble to find a new business model, one that offered takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery. Many found a way to hang on.
“We had to furlough all of our employees and change our business model,” said Andrew Vanalstyne, Manager at Roots Steakhouse located on Park Place, as he hurried to serve the many people eating outdoors on a beautiful Spring day. His employees were coming back and everyone was upbeat, but there were signs that not all was normal.
Inside the restaurant was empty, with the host stand positioned on the sidewalk and everyone who worked at the restaurant was masked.
Everyone wants to feel like the pandemic is over. It is under better control in New Jersey, but to keep it that way experts say that everyone needs to continue to socially distance, wear masks in public, and wash their hands. In a tweet, Governor Philip D. Murphy said that “If you’re going out, remember: common sense for the common good.”
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in an interview he did on Instagram that if restaurant workers wore masks and washed their hands “until they’re tired of it” he said that “risk of transmitting to one of your clients or customers is extraordinarily low.”
On June 16th everyone was ready to go. A majority of restaurants in town had their sidewalks filled with tables as their employees ensured that they were the proper distance apart. With tape measures in hand, an abundance of sanitation equipment, and masks on faces they excitedly got ready for the dinner rush in town.
It seemed a small price to pay for restaurant employees who for months had to struggle to survive. In order to have as little contact as possible with the customers, they could not let anyone eat inside and could only do delivery or takeout. Many places even had to go out and put the food in customers' cars for them. Waiters and waitresses and many workers had to be furloughed.
“It’s like we were playing football, but now we’re playing baseball,” said Vanalstyne, the manager of Roots.
A lot of Morristown eateries were able to stay afloat during this time, they were hit hard but are still standing. Some found ways to even thrive during this time.
Tacoria, located on South Street, was able to keep business afloat, said the manager, Tom Gould. He said they were quick to adapt and that the process wasn’t too difficult as takeout was a big part of their business prior to the pandemic.
At least one historic Morristown business found an opportunity in the crisis. Open since 1898, Verrilli’s Bakery, on Martin Luther King Avenue saw themselves fading away before the pandemic. They were close to going out of business and it seemed that one of the oldest eateries in Morristown was about to be gone forever.
But when the shutdown came, Kristi Dimogerodakis, whose family owns the business, said they found a way to survive and even thrive by offering home-cooked meals and other foods people could enjoy at home.
“People have found us, this is our silver lining,” said Dimogerodakis.
Social media has been a big part of why Verrilli’s and businesses alike have found their footing. In a Facebook group called, “Morristown Order Out Twice a Week Stimulus Plan” Verrilli’s is one of the most featured restaurants. Posts from Kristi are in it showing what is for dinner and what baked goods they have while their customers are showing their love for the bakery.
But even though some restaurants managed to find their way, everyone was happy to be serving customers again. And from the look of the people who were being served, they were delighted to go outside and not have to rely on takeout or their own cooking ability. Date night can be fun again.
“It’s kind of surreal, it’s long overdue and I can’ t believe it has taken this long,” said Mike of Union County as he said outside of Nunzios on South Street Thursday night. “It’s just nice to be out.”
Jasmine, who was visiting family in Morristown from her home in Los Angeles said “It’s a breath of fresh air,’’ as she sat outside Pavesi on South Street Thursday night.
When the pandemic started everyone’s focus was on public health rather than economic health. But after many months at home, and with more than 20 million Americans collecting unemployment, the nation’s focus has begun to shift to reopening. There is some risk in that, as people relax and we see they are not really wearing masks or thinking about social distancing.
Paul Barrone, who was outside of Bareburger, said that “a lot of things are on hold” but we need to “try to reopen.”
This conflict is also on the minds of those in the restaurant industry.
Gould, the manager at Tacoria, said that he noticed how people have started becoming more relaxed about the facial coverings.
Dillon Smith the Director of Hospitality at The Committed Pig said that he “couldn’t live with himself if someone got sick” so was taking every precaution
Still, it is definitely taken as a positive sight to see how Morristown is starting to open back up, especially because its main business is restaurants.
“It is great to get back to business as usual,’’ said Vanalstyne as he hustled to serve the customers at Roots.
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