Uptown business

"X" marks the spot for physical distancing in uptown Athens. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

An evening stroll in uptown Athens looks dramatically different than it did three months ago.

While the doors to some local restaurants and bars have been unlocked and propped back open, the scene is noticeably different. In the C.I., sheets hang in between each booth. Outside of Stephen’s On Court, an “X” created with blue tape marks the spot where patrons can wait in line — with six feet in between each bargoer.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced at the beginning of May that restaurants and bars could reopen their outdoor dining on May 15 and their dine-in services on May 21. This announcement was paired with detailed guidelines on how to ensure a safe reopening, with some policies mandatory and others just recommended.

In tackling reopening, each local bar or restaurant has taken their own unique approach.

Little Fish Brewing Company has opted to only reopen its outdoor patio for the time being with several new policies in place, including restrictions on cash pamyments.

Co-owner Sean White said the biggest question that faced Little Fish was how it could re-open in a way that limited nearly all contact -- the antithesis of how social establishments like bars and restaurants usually operate.

“It’s definitely a scary thing to think about,” White said in an interview. “Your responsibilities, how your actions, or lack of actions, can affect the spread of the coronavirus.”

Little Fish has also switched to using entirely compostable glassware, plates and utensils.

“It’s pretty costly,” White said. “You can easily spend a dollar a person, if not more, on compostables.”

But he said in an effort to protect both patrons and employees from the spread of COVID-19, that seemed like a solid option.

“Dishwashing is imperfect,” he said. “Even if you manage to clean the dishes 100 percent properly for the next guest, whoever is handling those dirty dishes between the time of them coming from the customer and then being cleaned properly, they have been exposed.”

The Pigskin Bar and Grille, on the other hand, has reopened both indoor seating and its outdoor patio.

General Manager Chris Roach said that inside of The Pigskin, they have installed barriers in between each booth, removed some tables to increase space, and added sanitizing stations, among other new policies and adjustments.

Employees are also required to wear masks and keep a log of their temperatures whenever they come in for work.

“All of these improvements cost money,” Roach said. “But it’s worth spending that money to ensure that our customers and employees are safe.”

Forced closures of restaurants and bars back in March across the state and most of the country, coupled with adjusting to a new normal that is necessary for establishments to operate, have taken a toll on business.

“This year’s gonna hurt us a lot financially,” White said. “But I think we’ll be alright.”

But while the past few months have been bleak, both White and Roach emphasized how important support from the community has been in keeping business afloat. With the unpredictability of the virus, there is no end date in sight for when new policies will be lifted. Both White and Roach said restrictions may continue through the summer and into the fall.

“I’m just hoping for the best for everyone,” White said. “As a business, we’re happy to make these sacrifices. We know a lot of people are making sacrifices right now.”

When it comes to almost all local establishments, another question hangs in the air: what will fall semester at Ohio University look like?

While OU released a statement in mid-May about its hopes to reopen campus in the fall, many of the details on a potential reopening are still in flux and will likely not be made available until later in the summer.

“It will have a huge impact, not just on our business, but on the city of Athens,” Roach said. “It’s a waiting game at this point in time.”

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