WEST ORANGE, NJ — When New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy envisioned back in early May how the state would eventually start to reopen its economy long before it had entered Stage 1 of the process, he said it would not be like turning on "a light switch."
West Orange Township officials who are preparing for the next stage of reopening, which will begin on Monday, June 15, are finding that out for themselves.
Beginning on Monday, restaurant and food service owners will be limited to curbside pickup, delivery services and outside cafés. Once restrictions on indoor dining are lifted (which has not yet been announced), they will be limited to the amount of seating they can offer in their dining rooms and bar areas. For the larger catering facilities, will not be allowed yet to have large gatherings for weddings and other celebrations; they can only serve dinner outside. All outdoor cafés must social distance tables 6 feet apart and have a maximum of eight customers per table. Buffets are not allowed.
Hair and nail salons will be limited to the number of clients they can service in one sitting. They need to be creative with scheduling and reorganizing of their spaces. Exercise facilities still cannot open indoors; they can only operate outside. Nonessential stores can open at 50 percent capacity requiring customers to wear facemasks. They must erect barriers between customers and employees.
"For all, PPE equipment has been difficult to obtain in ample supply," said Township Councilwoman Michelle Casalino.
"The biggest challenge is making sure businesses can operate while still providing customers an ability to social distance and feel safe," West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said. "In some cases it may be limiting the number of customers or temporarily altering ways to access a business space. This has been an unprecedented situation and has been devastating to many businesses. We will do what we can to support our businesses during this reopening process."
West Orange Chief of Police James Abbott said he maintains a commitment to making sure business owners and customers alike are safe as the township embarks on Stage 2.
"As the director of staff operations for the township, I have been tasked with ensuring an efficient and effective process for businesses to submit their various requests for township approval accompanied by an expedited turnaround on our end," West Orange Chief of Police James Abbott said. "This includes waiving all township fees and the issuance of Executive Orders by Mayor Parisi to allow businesses to expand in ways which may otherwise be negated by zoning restrictions. As the township chief of police, I need to follow through with ensuring patrons and merchants alike enjoy a safe environment as we move forward. As with the pandemic itself, this is all new to us and unfortunately we are unable to anticipate every obstacle. This will be a work in progress, and all township staff, from our junior most employees on up to the Township Council and ultimately the mayor himself, are equally committed to seeing this through successfully without exception."
Parisi noted that his administration has been working with Council President Casalino and businesses in preparing ways to expand on normal operations.
"We are planning on extending operating premises for restaurants to allow them to operate in available parking lots, sidewalks or where ever they can safely find additional space to accommodate customers, allowing them to social distance," the mayor said. "We recently issued a local executive order allowing gyms and recreational uses to operate in parks or other public spaces and a few have already been taking advantage of that."
Casalino admitted that the township has had a challenge navigating the roadmap to reopening that has come from Trenton.
"I have also found the interpretation of the guidelines from the governor's office has been frustrating for both our business owners and township officials," Casalino said. "Once an executive order is issued it then takes an additional few days for the guidelines to follow. I went to Mayor Parisi asking for his support in creating a COVID-19 Task Force to assist our business owners in navigating their way to reopening. Naturally he was supportive, and we asked Nick Allegrino, our OEM Coodinator; Theresa DeNova, our Health Officer; James Abbott, our police chief; Geniece Gary-Adams, our zoning officer; Jack Sayers, our business administrator; John Gross, our chief financial officer; Joe Fagan, our public information officer; Megan Brill, our Downtown West Orange Alliance director; Richard Trenk, our township attorney; and my colleague, Councilwoman Susan McCartney, to serve on the committee. Together, we have brainstormed to develop out-of-the-box strategies to assist our business owners in their time of need.
"We have offered our restaurant owners outside café options which are inclusive of use of their sidewalks and parking lots," Casalino said. "Our Zoning Officer Adams and Police Chief Abbott are working together to ensure that all site plans submitted are safe and secured. Health clubs are also being assisted by having an option in offering outdoor exercise classes either in their parking lots or in our public parks. Unfortunately the work involved in moving some businesses outside is cumbersome. Some have decided to wait until they can reopen indoors, yet creating another challenge. We will also provide public relations assistance through social media for those who like to send us their information."
Business owners can visit westorange.org for assistance. There now is a separate section for business owners on the site. They also may contact any township official directly for assistance.
"We want them to know that we are here for them," Casalino said.