For businesses across the Delaware beaches, the summer season was a time for booming business.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early spring—and life, and business, as they knew it, came to a sudden halt.
“It’s been a struggle to know what the right thing or wrong thing is to do as we get through all of this,” says Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Stage and its accompanying foundation.
Like the Freeman Stage, statewide beach venues have faced the unimaginable when the virus hit home, forcing them to temporarily shut their doors to the public and stay home for what appeared to be an uncertain amount of time, searching for signs for possible recovery.
“[The virus] caused us to have to push pause on our business and planning,” says Matt Garbett, brand manager and social marketing coordinator of the Big Chill Beach Club in Bethany Beach. “It really shook our…industry, as we are all about delivering the best hospitality experience for the summer.”
However, there is hope.
The state, which allowed select businesses to reopen in Phase 1 on June 1, has invoked strict guidelines pertaining to the virus’ continued spread, including limited occupancy, enforced social distancing, mask wearing, and retraining of employees to practice consistent regulations regarding their own and the health of their customers. Phase 2, which begins on June 15, has similar restrictions with some increased occupancy.
These precautions help to keep safety at the forefront while helping provide revenue for local businesses and long-missed interaction between people.
“The Board of Directors of the Delaware Restaurant Association gave us insight on all the best practices on safety protocols to adopt moving forward,” says Steve Montgomery, owner of The Starboard Restaurant & Bar in Dewey Beach. “[This includes] all our staff wearing masks, hand-sanitizing stations, and deeper cleaning protocols like fully wiping tables, under them, chairs, benches, and everything possible that can be touched within our restaurant.”
Other measures, including frequent temperature checks and consistent hand-washing practices, have also been adopted to further ensure a safe, steady first few days and beyond during this phase.
“Our goal [as a business] is for customers to feel comfortable and confident in dining with us, and that our staff feels safe in working with the public,” says Garbett. “These measures have caused us to increase the number of staff members to make sure that all areas are being constantly sanitized and clean for our customers.”
As these dining and entertainment venues approach and handle their re-openings with care and caution alike, they are also continuing to monitor the state and progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing themselves for a variety of possible outcomes, including further spread despite following listed precautions, or until the next stages of a potential vaccine occur.
“[We are] praying the virus numbers continue to trend down, all while keeping my own glass half full that this is going to work out as best it can for many of us, and hoping the best for every one of us in the restaurant industry,” Montgomery says. “We are a tight knit industry in little Delaware, we have done all that has been asked of us by the Governor’s office, and now are ready to go as things, while awful with the loss of life, still better than originally predicted in terms of cases and hospitalizations until a vaccine is finalized and produced.”
With precautions taken into account, as well as the continuation of virtual art showcases and performances and online education classes through their social media accounts, the Freeman Stage is prepping to set for a full-packed season, with their first round of scheduled shows set to be released the end of this month.
Their planned schedule, which includes a series of children’s/young audience’s performances, is hopefully slated for July, and the stage itself is prepared to approach the uncertainty of the future.
“We found a path to present the arts when we physically could not present them, all the while monitoring COVID-19 to understand what our season might look like,” says Grimes. “We will have to continue to adapt, but we are prepared to make our commitment to others to have a safe place for everyone to enjoy the arts, [as] the arts bring communities closer together.”
With these Phase 1 efforts set in motion, these venues, as well as other beachside businesses, are bringing comfort and credence back to their community, bringing back the rays of sunshine needed to come back.
“As a business, we are doing our best to follow the rules laid out before us,” says Garbutt. “We are excited to open and to get back to what we do best.”