Reopen group happy Westport's restaurants now reopening, says salons should be in business Monday

WESTPORT — Restaurants are slowing reopening for outside seating and larger chain stores, gyms and hotels should be opening by the middle of June — which is fine, according to the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team.

Phase 2 protocols are expected to be released by the state June 6. Until then, taking it easy is the name of the game, they said.

“I think the most important thing that should come out of this is that Westport is doing this slow, steady and correctly and not willy nilly,” said Matthew Mandell, a ReOpen team member, at a meeting on Thursday. “We’re making sure all the restaurants that are out there are following rules laid down by the state and that will engender confidence in the safety of the owners, staff and the patrons.”

The Planning and Zoning Department expedited the application process for outdoor dining after a slight delay that left the town’s restaurants mostly closed on the state’s official reopening May 20.

Mandell said there has since been 30 applications for outdoor dining with 18 already approved and three more expected to be approved by May 29.

“Most of them have come through within 24 to 48 hours of the application being filed, which shows the town is moving quickly even with making sure all of these pieces are taken care of,” he said.

Some applications include restaurants looking to use parking spaces to provide more space for patrons.

“Overall, things are moving forward and people are going out,” he said. “It’s not as breakneck as people may have feared or hoped.”

Mandell said it’s important to note that many restaurants’ primary revenue still comes from takeout since the rules only allow sit-down service at 50 percent capacity in their buildings.

“To keep these restaurants moving forward is to continue to use takeout,” he said. “Some of the restaurants are relying entirely on takeouts.”

Randy Herbertson, a ReOpen team member, said over the past weekend he visited 40 retailers in town.

“Approximately 50 percent of our retailers are open right now skewed heavily towards the independents,” he said. “Our chain stores are opening up slowly.”

Herbertson said while traffic is down for a seasonal comparison, people who visit retailers have largely been buyers and not just looking.

“Right now, I would say there is an air of some hopefulness at this stage as people are figuring out a new way to do business,” he said.

A variety of businesses will be a part of the state’s second phase of re-opening set for June 20 including gyms, hotels, libraries and more. Salons and Barbershops, which were originally expected to be a part of the first phase, will reopen on Monday.

Mark Cooper, health director of Westport-Weston Health District, said most of the salon owners he’s spoken with feel they are ready to reopen.

“Similar to the restaurants, we have a compliance checklist,” he said. “Once they open next week, we’ll be going there to watch their processes again in how they are sanitizing between clients.”

Jennifer Fava, Parks and Recreation director, said guidelines for reopening businesses in the state’s second phase will be released June 6.

“That’s what’s going to be key and what’s really going to guide us and show us how to best open up these different businesses,” she said.