Reopening is set to be a gradual process throughout Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week. Social distancing guidelines remain in place. Restaurants and stores are allowed to operate at 25% of normal capacity. Although county beaches are now open, other public facilities are still closed, including Lido Beach in the city of Sarasota.
Some businesses are excited about the prospect of resuming economic activity. Chris Voelker, owner of State Street Eating House, closed her business completely in March rather than shifting to takeout and delivery service. Now, as dine-in operations start back up, she said the restaurant will offer to-go orders, as well.
Voelker said operating at 25% capacity means restaurants will still be facing a significant challenge. She’s concerned about her workers, who have struggled to gain access to state unemployment benefits. She expressed optimism conditions would allow more customers in the doors soon, but for now, she’s just hoping to break even.
“Honestly, if I can keep afloat and keep everyone employed, I’m happy,” Voelker said.
The state has lifted some restrictions on nonessential businesses, but some are taking a more cautious approach to returning to work. Evelyn & Arthur, a clothing store on Main Street, was not yet allowing customers inside the business Monday. A sign in the window invited people to shop online or over the phone, instead.
Aliki Gable, the store’s manager, said the business would soon be allowing a maximum of two customers inside at a time. The store will require customers to wear masks. The doors to access the business will be locked, and customers are encouraged to make appointments ahead of time to shop there. The business is adopting additional safety precautions, such as sanitizing clothes customers try on and restricting access to the bathrooms.
As businesses reopen, Gable encouraged those who are shopping and dining out to be careful and mindful of workers as COVID-19 continues to pose a threat.
“When you patronize a business, whether it’s retail or restaurants, some of the staff are scared to death,” Gable said. “They have to go to work, but they don’t feel safe. They’re also scared that if we have another outbreak, it’s another shutdown.”
After reopening beach parking lots today, Sarasota County is debating what additional steps it might take regarding public recreational facilities. The county said it is “actively planning” for opportunities to reopen playgrounds, dog parks, basketball courts and more. The county reopened tennis and pickleball facilities Saturday. Although libraries remain closed, the facilities are now offering curbside pickup for items placed on hold.
The city has extended its public health emergency order through May 8. The latest order adjusts some zoning code regulations that the city says is designed to help facilitate outdoor dining with proper distancing precautions. The order also strongly encourages the use of masks in public.