By DON STINE and ED SALVAS
In the wake of new debilitating restrictions for small businesses announced Monday by the governor a bipartisan effort is underway asking him to revise the new restrictions and “create rules that are fair to smaller buildings.”
“We feel these guidelines should not be a one-size-fits-all approach and should, instead, create rules that are fair to smaller buildings trying to stay afloat during a global health and economic crisis,” said a letter to state officials from Sen. Vin Gopal, along with Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, all Democrats.
Under the new restrictions food and beverage establishments must ensure that all tables are six feet apart in all directions.
Leaders from both parties said the state is using a “one-size-fits-all” regulation that hurts smaller business by being grouped under the same restrictions as much bigger bar businesses.
“I would like to see more communication between the state and businesses. (And not just) blanket regulations covering one industry,” said Neptune City Mayor Andrew Wardell, a Republican.
Patrick’s Grille, on Route 35 in Neptune City, was recently visited by agents from the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and told that high-top tables placed next to the bar were not allowed under the new regulations, which requires a six-foot distance from the bar. Such distancing prohibits some bar/restaurants from serving customers if their building is smaller.
Wardell said he was at Patrick’s Grille when the ABC officials came in and said he believes they were there “without much notification or clarification” about the regulations.
Wardell said he wants Covid-19 decisions made based on science and supporting data which he said should be made public.
“Prove that something is dangerous,” he said. “I don’t understand why restaurants with liquor licenses are targeted more than luncheonettes. What’s the rationale for that? These restaurants are not late-night clubs and it would be a shame to see them close their doors.”
He said some regulations “seem unnecessary” for smaller restaurants with liquor licenses.
Other area legislators agree.
In the Nov. 30 letter from Democratic legislators they request the state change the required six-foot distance between the bar and the closest table, providing the six-foot mandate is met in all other directions.
Republicans and Democrats also said staff working in these restaurants were victims under these new regulations since many restaurants may be forced to close.
Patrick’s Grille has, for now, closed its doors due to the severe restrictions. In a recent letter to Murphy and ABC Director James Graziano, Patrick’s Grille owners Kevin and Maura Fitzsimmons requested relief from the current Covid-19 regulations regarding service at bars.
“This is not sustainable. We fail to see how utilizing tables closer to an empty bar creates an undue health hazard. We now find our restaurant doors shut again because of restrictions that do not allow us to operate in a viable manner,” the letter said.
They wrote that their restaurant has been “adhering faithfully” to all health and safety requirements.
“We’ve abided by those mandates. But the guideline we were found to be in violation of does not make scientific sense, and to abide by it kills our business. This hurts not just our family, but the families of all our employees. Why is it acceptable for customers to be seated at counters in diners and luncheonettes while our restaurant cannot seat people near an unoccupied bar?” the letter asked.
The restaurant will now be featuring take out only.
Republican Freehold Director Thomas Arnone, who is also a former Neptune City mayor, said a way needs to be found to help these small businesses while “still looking at the public safety side.”
“I am not only confused by the regulations but also worried how they are regulating our small businesses when they are taking every safety measure. We need to move on revising the current regulations,” he said. “We know how difficult this is but, at the end of the day, you can’t put them all in a vacuum. It’s more important to look at data and statistics so you can see where the rising numbers are coming from and I don’t think they are coming from restaurants, small businesses or gyms. Yet we continue to keep focusing on them when we need to look at what really causes it.”
“This also involves people’s livelihoods and we have to take a broader look at regulating different businesses and make the proper modifications. And Patrick’s Grille is a perfect example,” he said.
Assemblyman Houghtaling said he frequents Patrick’s Grille and other area restaurants, adding that “it’s unfortunate that we have a one-size-fits-all solution. We want to help small businesses get through this and we are doing our due diligence and are working toward getting them open. Efforts are underway to address the problem,” he said.
At the Elbow Room in Bradley Beach, owner Madelyn Snow, said business has slowed since they shut down their outside tent room.
“It’s not good…it’s just slow, people are so scared,” she said.
She is, however, thinking of closing for lunch three days and only serving lunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The restaurant is now closed on Mondays and Snow said she is considering closing on Tuesdays as well.
Thanksgiving Eve was supposed to be the busiest night of the year at Georgies, the popular club known as the “Gay Cheers” in Asbury Park. Instead, Manager Joe Cole said business was slow and he blames the new ban on people drinking at the bar which was instituted to keep people from getting too close to each other to slow the spread of the Covid 19 virus.
“That means that 20 seats were taken out, allowing only 28 people inside the bar at one time,” Cole said. He’s playing by the rules noting “it takes only one guy to say something and they’ll close us down.”
Mario Magriplis, owner of Charley’s Ocean Grill in Long Branch, said closing the bar was a major blow to the business and brought an immediate slowdown. The bar at Charley’s with 28 seats was more than just a bar.
“People don’t just drink at the bar,” he said, calling the rule “a little bit crazy.” Magriplis said that during the previous shutdown, they used the time to make some planned changes in the floor plan by removing a wall and creating an open space concept with a better view of the ocean.