Hungry for normalcy, NJ fills outdoor seating and indoor shops
LONG BRANCH — At 1:30 p.m. on Monday — the first day in nearly three months for state-permitted in-person dining in New Jersey — Bridgette Galante and Christine Falcone sat down at the first restaurant of three they planned to patronize over several hours at Pier Village.
"We're having a drink that we've wanted for so long, in an actual glass," Galante said.
The friends from Old Bridge were able to walk up and secure an outdoor table at McLoone's Pier House, which is handling tables mostly through reservations.
According to Tim McLoone, who owns a number of restaurants along the Jersey Shore and elsewhere, every outdoor table at his Asbury Park restaurants was occupied at lunchtime. The same was true at his Long Branch location, he said.
"People have to call ahead because there's no other way to control this. And the demand is really intense," McLoone said.
The seaside eatery extended its footprint along the boardwalk and can offer the same number of tables as usual, spaced several feet apart in accordance with state guidelines in order to encourage social distancing during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
All employees are wearing masks. Condiments have been removed from the tables, and soft drinks are being served in plastic cups. Customers can access the menu by scanning a QR code with their phones.
"It was nice to get back out, feel normal again," said Zeb Frayne, of East Brunswick, who had just finished an outdoor lunch with his wife and son.
Restaurants in New Jersey were informed two weeks ago that they could welcome customers outdoors on June 15 — they'd been unable to serve customers at tables since the middle of March. No estimate has been offered yet on when indoor dining could resume, even in a limited fashion. Gov. Phil Murphy has said indoor, sedentary activities could be among the last to return to New Jersey.
Monday also marked the return of in-person shopping for non-essential retail establishments. That opened the doors for a handful of shops in Pier Village.
"The doors opened at 9 a.m. and it was like a summer morning," Aimee Gregorin, a manager at the women's clothing store Molly & Zoey, said. "We're still bracing for a normal summer. People are going to come to the beach regardless."
Due to the virus threat, fitting rooms are temporarily off-limits, Gregorin said. If any returns are made, the products sit in the back for 48 hours before they can be returned to the shelves.
"We just came today to shop and go out to eat because New York is still closed," said Carly Weschner, who took a day trip from Staten Island with her mother. "I can't wait to hold a shopping bag again."