At Bogue’s Restaurant, a longtime fixture on the city’s Southside, walk-in dining got off to a less-than-roaring start on Monday, the first day the eatery could reopen under the state’s amended Safer at Home order.
By early afternoon, about 15 customers had gone in for breakfast or lunch, a number well below the curbside orders the eatery had been getting each day that it had been closed to indoor dining under the state’s earlier Stay at Home order.
“We’ve been super slow today,” said restaurant manager Angela Chaffins. “I think it will pick up once everybody sees they can come in and everything’s safe.”
Gov. Kay Ivey in March closed nonessential businesses in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has sickened more than 10,000 Alabamians. Now the state is being reopened in phases. Ivey announced Friday that restaurant dining rooms, salons and barber shops, and athletic facilities could join the list of businesses that may reopen as of Monday. She also removed restrictions to allow groups of more than 10 people to gather.
But the order also places restrictions on those businesses and gatherings. Her order still requires people to maintain social distances of six feet or more between themselves and others and it requires thorough hygiene measures be taken.
In Birmingham, the city’s ordinance requiring people to wear masks or other face coverings also is in force through May 22.
In preparation for Monday’s opening, workers at Bogue’s prepared a cleaning agent consisting of a concentrated sanitizer diluted in buckets of water. They mopped the floors, scrubbed the tables and chairs and all the fixtures and placed off-limits signs on every other table to ensure groups of diners were at least six feet apart. In addition, every incoming customer had to order from a menu and be served by a waitress, because there was no buffet line.
By early afternoon, only two tables had occupants, and it had not been much different all day. At one table, near the cash register, were longtime Bogue’s patrons Charles and Janice Carter. Like many of their fellow residents, they had been supporting local restaurants with drive-through orders and preparing their meals at home. Charles Carter said the couple had no hesitation about coming in for lunch and were “just glad we could have our first meal in a restaurant after this crisis. … We’re happy to be here and glad they (are) back open.”
“We feel like we (are) back home again,” his wife said.
While more operations were allowed to open Monday, the definition of “open” varied widely, depending on the establishment.
Jimmy Shallow, a barber at Crestwood’s Birmingham House of Cuts, did a “soft opening” Monday, scheduling three clients per day for now. He’s taking note of how long it takes to sanitize equipment in between haircuts. Customers also must sign a waiver indicating they assume any risks associated with coronavirus.
Kevin Burke, owner of Phase Gym in Birmingham reopened as well with a number of safety precautions. He’s limiting the number of people in the gym and regularly sanitizing equipment. His staff must wear masks at all times.
“Our primary goal and objective is to make sure that people are safe and that they feel safe as they’re working out and training,” he said.
Burke has spent the past few months training clients online and says he’ll continue to do so for those who aren’t quite ready to venture out. He’s dedicating a room in his gym for workouts over video conference.Overall, he said, many of his clients were eager to return.
“As soon as the governor made the announcement, we started getting phone calls and text messages before we could even send anything out saying what it was that the gym was going to look like in this new world,” Burke said.
The YMCA of Greater Birmingham will not reopen yet. CEO and President Dan Piles says he’s heeding Friday’s recommendation from the Jefferson County Health Officer to refrain from having public gatherings of 10 or more people.
Some restaurants, such as Golden Rule in Irondale, are eager to open their dining rooms to customers again. But staff there said they were surprised by the governor’s announcement Friday and needed a few more days to prepare. Other popular spots along Birmingham’s Highway 78, including Hamburger Heaven and The Filling Station, remained take-out only.
Multiple restaurant owners said dine-in services won’t yet cover the cost of rehiring a full staff. The seating requirements will decrease their capacity, and even then, they aren’t confident customers will take the risk. In addition, some workers are earning more through unemployment benefits than what business owners can afford to pay.
Birmingham’s beer drinkers may have more to celebrate. Avondale Brewing, Good People Brewing, and Birmingham District Brewing all opened their taprooms, even as many others decided to stick with to-go service for now.
Social Distancing Urged
Even as businesses opened, health and government officials urged anyone who could stay home to do so and reiterated the importance of social distancing and thorough hygiene. In Birmingham, the city law requiring people to wear face coverings in public is in effect until May 22.
Here is a synopsis of what has changed in the Safer-at-Home order and what remains the same from the previous order.
Removing 10-person limit. Still required to maintain 6 feet of distance between persons not from same household.
Restaurants, bars and breweries
May open with limited table seating, 6 feet between tables and subject to additional sanitation rules and guidelines.
Athletic facilities (such as fitness centers and commercial gyms)
May open subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines. Specified athletic activities are still not allowed.
Close-contact service providers (such as barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo services)
May open subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines.
Open with no limit on gatherings. Must maintain 6 feet of separation.
What’s Staying the Same
Encouraged to stay home and follow good sanitation practices.
Businesses may open subject to sanitation and social-distancing guidelines; certain higher-risk businesses and activities remain closed.
All retail stores open subject to 50% occupancy rate, social-distancing and sanitation rules.
Entertainment venues (such as night clubs, theaters and bowling alleys)
Allowed unless prohibited in the future by the State Health Officer to preserve resources necessary to diagnose and treat COVID-19; providers must follow COVID-19-related rules and guidance from state regulatory boards or public health authorities.
Senior citizen centers
Regular programming still suspended except meals still available through curbside pick-up or delivery.
Still closed to in-person instruction (except for daytime special activities programs).
Child day care facilities
Still must not allow 12 or more children in a room.
Hospitals and nursing homes
Still must implement policies to restrict visitation.