Burlington County Retailers, Restaurants Prepare For Reopening — Eventually

Restaurants and non-essential stores may be able to allow customers back soon. For some in Burlington County, it’s just a matter of when Gov. Phil Murphy gives them the go-ahead.

MEDFORD — With Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement this week that limited dining at restaurants and shopping in nonessential stores could resume “within a matter of weeks,” businesses in Burlington County are eagerly awaiting the return of their customers.

Among those businesses is Joy’s Hallmark, where owner Ron Monokian said the store has still been fulfilling orders for graduation and Mother’s Day cards and gifts in recent weeks through the Hallmark website. It’s traditionally, the store’s second busiest season after Christmas.

“If the governor gives us the word, I just need a few days to bring my people back,” Monokian said. “I just got done completing putting up plastic barriers across our registers. We’re doing everything we can to keep us safe and our customers safe.”

Restaurants, personal care services, expanded child care, museums, libraries and retail could be among the next wave of businesses and locations to reopen at a limited capacity, Murphy said in Tuesday’s daily briefing. However, there’s no official date for when the state will reach that phase.

As businesses plan to gradually reopen, Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Kristi Howell is assembling an online directory to let residents know which businesses are open, and how they’re operating.

More than 60 member businesses had already signed up by the Monday deadline, Howell said.

“People don’t know that some businesses are open,” Howell said. “But people are still working remotely, and delivering products and services. We want to continue to get the word out. Businesses are still very much working.”

“It’s really to let chamber members know who’s open, who’s working remotely, what services they may be providing,” she added. “And some people have changed to focus on other services.”

Bob Wagner, owner of Ott’s Bar and Restaurant and Braddock’s Tavern in Medford, is preparing for the next phase of his reopening process.

After weeks of being takeout-only, he anticipates opening the restaurants’ outdoor seating areas that they’ve always been known for in the summer — as soon as the governor gives the green light.

“There’s going to be concern out there for customers and employees,” Wagner said. “I can’t control what you decide to do in your house, or I do in mine. Employee and guest safety will be at the highest level.”

Braddock’s and all three Ott’s locations in South Jersey have stayed open for curbside pickup orders. Prior to March, Wagner said takeout orders were always just 2% of the restaurants’ sales.

The possibility of in-person dining will mean tables pushed further apart, and a more “one-on-one” experience, Wagner said.

“The people that want to come out, will come out,” he said of the possible reopening. “We’ll adhere to the highest sanitation standards ever. We won’t have condiments on the table; they’ll be brought to you. I see servers and bartenders still wearing face masks.”

For businesses that haven’t stayed open during the lockdown, Wagner said they’re likely in for some shock.

“It’s a whole new world,” he said. “When people go to reopen, if they haven’t done this already, the first couple of weeks are hard because you don’t know what you have to do for guests’ expectations.”

Shopping at stores previously considered nonessential will be different too.

Protective barriers, like the one Monokian installed at Joy’s Hallmark will become commonplace.

As safety precautions, Monokian also has purchased disposable gloves, sanitizing sprays, wipes and liquid hand sanitizer, and he plans to take measures for in-person shoppers such as wiping down the credit card machine between each purchase and requiring guests to wear masks.

“I don’t want anyone to get the virus,” he said. “But we have to start moving on soon, and we’ve proven that through certain measures, we can still do business.”

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