By: Carly Truett, Writer / Follow South Jersey Public Health Intern
BRIDGETON, N.J. — New Jersey has paused in Phase 2 of its reopening plans. While outdoor dining and indoor retail have reopened with certain limitations and regulations, plans to restart indoor dining have been stalled indefinitely.
Indoor dining was slated to begin again on July 2, but Governor Phil Murphy postponed this date on June 29 citing the spread of COVID-19 in other states and overcrowding of some outdoor New Jersey bars and restaurants. California, which had previously closed and then reopened indoor dining, again halted indoor dining across the state last Monday after seeing increases in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Murphy explained his desire to avoid following patterns like this. The Bridgeton Area Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland Development Corp. expressed disappointment in this decision, expressing their concern about the economic well-being and their hopes that indoor dining would soon resume in a newsletter released earlier this month.
Retail stores have been allowed to reopen at 50% capacity. There are also mandatory regulations: installation of physical barriers between cashiers and customers when possible, posting six-foot distance markers in checkout lines, increasing sanitation practices, and mandatory face masks for employees and patrons, among other requirements.
Bars and restaurants must follow similar guidelines to retail businesses, including maintaining six feet of distance whenever possible and mandatory face masks for employees and customers who enter the indoor portion of a restaurant. No state order limits operating hours of restaurants at this time. Drive-through, delivery, and takeout are currently allowed, and some limitations on alcohol sales have been lifted during the current state of emergency. In May, Governor Murphy signed a bill allowing for takeout and delivery of alcohol, including mixed cocktails, in sealed containers, in attempts to improve revenue for local restaurants. Outdoor dining is allowed, including in permanent structures with a fixed roof so long as over 50% of their total wall space is open.
Local restaurants that typically rely on indoor dining for revenue have gotten creative in the midst of the pandemic and its regulations. Some local eateries, like The Green Olive Restaurant, Bridgeton Family Diner, Golden Pigeon Diner, Tio Santos, and Towne Restaurant have installed tents in their parking lots or other areas of their property to expand outdoor dining capabilities. Others have expanded their delivery options, some joining popular delivery sites like GrubHub and Uber Eats.
A bipartisan bill introduced to the New Jersey legislature on Thursday aims to help relieve the financial burden restaurants and bars faced with the postponement of indoor dining reopening. The legislation, introduced by Assembly Republican Leader John Bramnick and endorsed by Senate President Steve Sweeney, would allocate $30 million from federal CARES act grants to help restaurants and bars offset the cost of preparations for reopenings that did not occur on July 2 as planned. The money would be distributed by the Economic Development Authority to restaurants in loans or grants.
While this legislation may provide some reprieve to local business owners, and local businesses maintain hope that indoor dining will resume soon, the Bridgeton Chamber of Commerce encourages the community to order takeout and dine outdoors at local businesses when possible.
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.