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Getting back to normal?

Restaurants allowed to increase capacity to 75 percent

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Restaurants outside New York City were allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity starting last Friday, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, business owners are anxious to see things return to normal.

Jerry Hughes, who owns Connolly Station in Malverne, said he managed to sustain business thanks to his outdoor patio, and that residents’ support helped keep the restaurant open over the past year.

“The village has been excellent,” Hughes said. “The residents of Malverne are great people, and they do come out to support us. If it’s not in-restaurant, it’s to-go food. Things slowed down when it got cold, but we’re hoping that this coming summer, things will open up again and we’ll be able to go back to normal.”

Hughes also said that the Malverne Chamber of Commerce’s effort to support servers who rely on tips helped to sustain his staff. Last April, the chamber launched a campaign in which it urged residents to purchase $5 tote bags, with the proceeds going to servers in the village.

The village board’s initiative to highlight restaurants on Malverne TV, Hughes added, also helped to keep his business afloat. He said that the 75 percent capacity is a step in the right direction, but even with that, challenges remain.

“When you still have to socially distance at six feet apart, you’re never going to really be able to pull that off until they take down those restrictions,” he said of the remaining capacity limitation. “Maybe if it were three feet, it could work indoors. A lot of people are getting the vaccine, however, so I’m hoping that helps to loosen the restrictions.”

Brian Lewis Sr., owner of the Broadway Tavern in Malverne, faced an unexpected challenge after he purchased the bar in December 2019. He had renovated the interior and, coincidentally, expanded the bar with an outdoor section.

“When we first opened up in January, we were really busy every weekend, but it hasn’t been that way in a long time,” Lewis said. “This has been a tough time for us, but I’m feeling confident about the future.”

He was forced to close the bar for two months last March, but the business did well throughout the summer. He echoed Hughes’s sentiments that despite the increase to 75 percent capacity, maintaining six feet of distance would be difficult.

“I can’t put 48 people in my bar and keep them socially distanced,” Lewis said. “The best thing we did was spending the money to put this outdoor venue together. People want to be outside, anyway, because it’s a little more comfortable right now.”

“The town has been very cooperative in giving us whatever we need,” he continued. “The mayor has been more than accommodating, and the village board has really tried their best to support us in any way possible.”

Cuomo said that while many New Yorkers might feel pandemic fatigue, he was hopeful that they would “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” “Our fight in the war against Covid-19 continues, but we are encouraged by the decrease in infection and hospitalization rates and the rise in vaccinations,” he said in a news release. “As we expand our vaccine distribution and celebrate the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we have never been closer to defeating this beast once and for all.”