SOMERVILLE, NJ - Starting June 15, New Jerseyans can make themselves presentable again by getting a haircut before dining out at their favorite restaurant - and after indulging off the menu, work out at the local gym the next day.
They'll also be able to go inside and shop at their favorite retails establishments.
Gov. Phil Murphy delivered some good news to New Jersey residents at Monday's daily press briefing, announcing that the state is ready to begin Phase II of its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The governor will allow restaurants to re-open for outdoor dining only; allow barbers and beauty salons to re-open as well as non-essential retail stores and permit local gyms to open their doors for work-outs and exercise - all with restrictions.
"We want people to get back out to our down towns and Main Streets," the governor said. "We've listened intently to every responsible voice," a reference to the avalanche of letters, phone calls and social media that have advocated a return to normalcy.
Murphy did not offer any specifics on guidelines, but said Judy Persichelli, state health director, will announce protocols and restrictions later this week to allow business owners to prepare, rehire staff and secure supplies for their re-openings.
Outdoor dining and in-person retail shopping will be allowed starting June 15, while personal care businesses such as barbershops and hair salons will be able to open a week later as Murphy continues to peel away social distancing measures.
Youth summer programs will also be permitted to start on July 6 during what Murphy calls Stage 2 of New Jersey’s road back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Murphy is also trying to determine when gyms and health clubs will also open their doors, the re-opening of New Jersey will come with some restrictions.
“It’s going to look a lot I would suspect like the guidance for essential retail,” Murphy said Monday, turning briefly to confer with Persichelli. “So, it’s going to be capacity, social distancing, markers on the ground, maybe some plexiglass.
“And I would think restaurants, outdoor dining will probably have some of the elements we’ve spoken to, distance between tables, probably temperature checks or something like that on the way in. Masks, gloves for employees and I would guess more paper menus, but I will leave it (at that). That’s to come.”
Trade groups like the New Jersey Beverage and Hospitality Association have urged Murphy to allow businessmen and owners to do what they know how to do, to trust them to adhere to social distancing and impose other safety measures.
Other groups, like the upstart Mayors of Main Street, representing towns in central New Jersey, have suggested to Murphy that local officials are better-equipped to handle local matters in their down towns and on Main Street.
The New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association will hold an 11 a.m. press conference at the Stress Factory in New Brunswick on Wednesday to apply more pressure on Murphy.
"The purpose is to urge the governor to "Let Us Get Open" We need indoor and outdoor dining. Not everyone has a place to expand to," said Diane Weiss, executive director.
The imposition of social distancing, limited crowd sizes and closure of non-essential businesses in down towns, Main Streets, along highways and shopping malls has curtailed consumers' access to most businesses since mid-March, when Murphy began executing a series of executive orders in an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus.
Murphy credits those measures and the publics' willingness to accept the shutdown and isolation directives for helping to reverse the upward trends that peaked in late April, and the gradual decrease in hospital admissions in May.
Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, greeted the governor's announcement with optimism.
"I think it was what we were expecting," she said, "we've been hearing the numbers at each press conference, so at some point soon, we knew we would be moving on to Phase 2 and that's good news for everybody," she added.
"A lot of our restaurants have been preparing for outdoor seating and making adjustments to become sidewalk cafes," Pineiro said. "Obviously, some will have limited capacity because they'll have to make sure that their tables are six feet apart; they'll have to make sure that people understand PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) requirements and things like that,"
"This is great news, we're very excited," said RanD Pitts, owner of men's clothing boutique Evolve on Main Street, and a member of the Borough Council.
"Being a boutique as we are, it's been hard for us," Pitts said. "We're fortunate to have a very loyal client base, so we've been doing curbside and it's helped and I understand we need to take baby steps; no one really wants to go through this again. I agree with what the governor is doing in trying to open things.
"If I can let 50 percent of my occupancy back in, that would be great for us; people want to come in, see things, touch things it's all about that experience," Pitts said. "It's difficult to shop a picture on a website. When you're a clothing store, it's all about the fabrics, seeing the design and shopping in person."
Pat Mannion, owner of Mannion's Pub & Restaurant on West Main Street, is disappointed that Phase 2 is still two weeks away.
"I thought it would be sooner than two weeks, the hospital numbers are down, I thought we were in better shape," he said.
Restaurants are more than ready to begin serving, Mannion said. "Everyone has done what needs to be done."
He also doubts whether many of the restaurants on Main Street will have adequate space on the sidewalks for enough tables to make it worthwhile to serve outdoors.
"It won't be worth hiring the staff," he said.
Mannion's frontage on Main Street is at least triple many of the other restaurants that are on narrow lots.
"We'll put the table out there, it's better than nothing," he said. "What we really need is to get the inside open."