It is already cliché to say that we are living in unprecedented times, that we are entering a summer season like none we have ever seen before. Yet that is the truth of it. And locals and visitors alike will still be searching in increasing numbers for ways to enjoy all the East End has to offer—restaurants, beaches, art galleries, you name it—now that July 4th weekend has arrived.
Such efforts launched in the Hamptons when “Southampton in the Streets,” a pilot program to help promote outdoor dining and retail following the economic shutdown caused by COVID-19, was held in the village on Saturday, June 27. Main Street and Jobs Lane were closed to vehicular traffic for six hours to make room for expanded outdoor dining and foot traffic. Tables were placed in the streets, but were required to be spaced six feet apart, and village officials, who organized the evening, reminded businesses that masks were a must.
Therein lies one of the great challenges facing businesses, government officials, residents and day-trippers alike as we move forward. Opportunities can and will be created for any number of activities, and people can be asked to enjoy them by following certain protocols, but not all will comply. Some images of that first “Southampton in the Streets” evening showed a crowd on Main Street viewing a fire dancer’s performance, and not everyone in the photos was complying with executive orders from the state and village to wear a mask. Not all were social distancing. While many people throughout the village wore face coverings and stayed separated, others did not.
Many took to IndyEastEnd.com and Dan’s Papers Facebook pages to voice concern and frustration over those not wearing masks in the images.
“No social distancing seen, and maybe 1-2 masks. This virus is not going away anytime soon,” wrote Bonnie L. Wicks
“I thought masks were supposed to be worn in public.. no masks in any of these pics!!!” wrote Alanna Torres.
“There was a problem with one restaurant and we have spoken to that proprietor,” says Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren. “We have also reached out to the governor’s office and asked for help enforcing the law.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has called out Long Island and New York City in particular, has insisted that local police enforce compliance.
Cuomo issued an executive order in April that mandated any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain social distance. On June 29, the governor urged President Donald Trump to sign an executive order asking everyone to wear a mask. “How we’re at this point as a nation and we still haven’t done the simple, easy, minimal step of saying you must wear a mask when you’re in public?” he said.
“We have to remind ourselves that we’re still in a global crisis,” Warren adds. “This is not a time for a party. We simply want to make sure businesses can succeed and get through this year.”
It certainly seems the businesses and cultural institutions are ready to help make that happen. Throughout the evening diners enjoyed eating outdoors, the Southampton Arts Center offered live music by The Wednesdays, the Plaza Cafe food truck served to-go food on the corner of Main Street and Jobs Lane, and a DJ performed on Main Street. Shops stayed open late and visitors walked down the center of the street to avoid crowding. Barring that one issue, Warren says, feedback was generally positive and had the support from business owners and residents. “Most people thought it went very well.”
With an eye toward the need to give businesses more outdoor space and patrons increased options, Greenport Village instituted a similar sidewalk expansion plan in June. Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr. and village trustees approved the street closure on Front Street, which spans from First Street to Main Street, and a pilot was held over the weekend of June 19.
“We have had a very good reaction to the closing off of parking to allow tables for outside dinning and the only complaint was that we could not build them fast enough,” says the mayor. “This week the BID (Greenport Village Business Improvement District) is finishing the last section and we are making part of Front Street one way to allow more space to walk and eat. The entire village board wants all of our stores to prosper and remain open so we have worked well with the BID and thank them for their work on this project along with Shop Design for donating their time with the drawings and lay out of the project. The feel in the village is relaxing and people have more room to move and I hope everyone enjoys the open layout for the summer and stays safe and wear your mask.”
“The Greenport BID is happy to report that our efforts to accelerate the schedule of the road closure to vehicular traffic has been approved by the Village Board,” said BID’s website.
According to the plan, businesses are allowed to expand up to 12 feet from the physical edge of their building toward the street. Restaurants such as the Frisky Oyster on Front Street have expanded seating into the street, filling up space that would otherwise be reserved for parking. Greenport started building barricades in late May to help with pedestrian traffic. Said the mayor during a special meeting on May 28, “The idea is to give more social distancing to everybody.”
Each business must also have a defined area with a temporary divider separating business from the street. The plan also states that “Every employee of any business that is open must wear a mask at all times,” and “Food and Beverage patrons MUST be seated when eating or drinking.”
East Hampton Town has proposed similar action for street closures in downtown Montauk. East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc sent a letter to restaurants on June 24, a day prior to entering Phase 3 reopening, which included indoor dining.
“East Hampton Town has not yet received permission from NYS to allow outdoor dining on sidewalks and other areas of the state public right of way,” stated the letter. “An application submitted to the state on Monday, June 15, immediately after receiving the state’s instructions, is still pending. When the town gets the state’s authorization, we can process requests from businesses for use of those areas. I hope that all of you are able to successfully resume your business this summer after the pandemic shutdown.
“Compliance with the safety rules, including insuring that patrons wear masks at your establishment at all times when not seated, will help our community avoid a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus that could result in the state mandating closures once again,” the letter continued.
The streets of Sag Harbor Village are always a popular destination for shoppers and diners, and have been drawing visitors in notable numbers since early spring this year. Yet cars will still be making their way down the center of town this summer. The village abandoned its plans to shut down Main Street to vehicular traffic after receiving opposition from village businesses. Reportedly parking was the issue in the village. Recently, the village has also reduced the amount of time visitors can park on Main Street during weekends, to avoid overcrowding.
Crowds. The very word has defined the East End for countless summers, and has long been heralded by businesses as a sign that the most important economic part of the year had arrived. The signs still point to a need for those crowds, for safe and innovative plans to bring them in and keep them coming back, to give them opportunities to support local shops and restaurants and to enjoy what the East End has to offer, even in these times.
For his part, Mayor Warren plans to continue “Southampton in the Streets” on July 4th weekend, ideally laying a foundation for not only this summer but into a future where the norm could be expanded outdoor dining, evening music and sidewalks and shops welcoming guests who are ready to embrace summer. “Hopefully this will become a tradition for years to come.”