Businesses get creative as part of reopening plan

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Bill's Pizzeria
As part of a plan supported by town officials, restaurants are being allowed to use parts of parking lots, driveways and sidewalks to create more space for outdoor seating. Bill’s Pizzeria received approval to serve customers in the driveway that abuts Town Hall while rerouting traffic to the other side of the building. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

Phase 2 in Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phased approach to reopening state businesses began June 8, allowing for Hopkinton restaurants, retail stores and other businesses to resume limited operations.

Hopkinton Card & Gift Manager Val Bavosi described June 8 as a “soft opening” for the shop, the selection remaining the same as before the shutdown.

She spent the time leading up to Phase 2 installing plexiglass barriers to separate cashiers from customers, taping off sections of the floor 6 feet apart for customers to stand in line, and finalizing other precautions.

Also in accordance with the state’s mandatory social distancing and sanitation guidelines, Bavosi mandates that both employees and customers wear masks, and they will provide hand sanitizer to customers when they enter the shop.

Retail clothing store Swoon Central also reopened at a limited capacity of four customers in the store at a time. Co-owner Lisa Strain mentioned wanting to make customers feel as comfortable as possible.

“If they want to come in alone and be the only one in the store, we want to be able to accommodate that,” Strain said.

The store now operates at different hours to allow for private appointments: between 9-10 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. It also has closed its dressing rooms, meaning customers will have to try on their purchases at home and return them if they are not the right fit.

During the June 2 Select Board meeting town officials strongly supported a plan, endorsed by the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee, that creates additional outdoor seating for restaurants — using parking lots, driveways and even sidewalks. Outdoor dining is another key part of the Phase 2 reopening plan, as it allows restaurants to serve more customers while maintaining social distancing.

Town Manager Norman Khumalo suggested allowing Bill’s Pizzeria to use the driveway that runs between Bill’s and Town Hall to serve customers, rerouting traffic to the other side of the Bill’s building.

“I think that’s a great job of thinking outside the box and doing what we can to support our businesses in town,” Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

A subsequent Phase 2 order promises a degree of indoor seating as well, so long as public health data continues progressing in the right direction.

Hiller’s Pizza has outdoor seating in front of the entrance that normally can accommodate 20 people but will be reduced to about half that with the necessary spacing, owner Peter Sismanis said. Hiller’s has remained open during the pandemic.

“It’s been very steady with the delivery business, and we also get people doing pickup and curbside,” he said.

Local Chinese/Japanese restaurant Dynasty is not one of those businesses allowing outdoor seating as of June 8. Dynasty owner Rosie Liang said that the traffic within the narrow parking lot does not allow room for outdoor tables and chairs.

The restaurant instead will continue to provide takeout and delivery through its current partnership with the food delivery company DoorDash, linked on its website.

Liang also said the bar probably will open in July, after which further discussions for reopening may occur.

UniBank’s Hopkinton branch remained open during the pandemic via its drive-up teller window and by appointment. As of June 10 the lobby remained closed.

“We are working diligently to determine a plan to reopen our locations in a safe manner for our both our staff and customers in the coming weeks,” branch manager Cristina Morrissiey said, noting that drive-up teller and ATM services remain fully accessible. The bank encourages the use of online and mobile banking services “that provide a free, convenient and contactless way of banking for our customers.”

During the pandemic, businesses like Hopkinton Card & Gift and Swoon Central have kept engaged with their customers mainly through social media.

“They’re seeing our products, they’re seeing what we have in the store, they see us on social media, so I think it just keeps a sense of community going with our customers,” Swoon Central co-owner Kathy Mazur said.

While representatives from both retail stores said it was too early to tell when all local businesses will reopen, Strain hopes that her customers remember to return to their favorite places in person when the time arrives.

“People got accustomed to staying home and online shopping because that’s all they could do,” Strain said. “So we hope people make the transition: remember the small local businesses. Whether it’s boutiques like us, the local restaurants, the local bakery, to start coming out and going back to the local businesses.”

As Hopkinton businesses reopen some of their services, Mazur recommends that people shop local — at small businesses as often as possible, rather than larger stores that managed to stay open as essential businesses.

“Even though they couldn’t operate at full capacity, they still had the ability to operate,” Mazur said. “I think for small businesses that wasn’t an option, and that was a much harder hit for small businesses.”

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