Reopening Day

J ust because the government says businesses can reopen doesn’t mean customers will be quick to follow. That seemed to be the message at lunchtime last Wednesday, the first day of the state’s Phase 1 reopening, when downtown felt nearly as quiet as it has in recent weeks and most outdoor seating at restaurants sat empty.

At G Café on Orange Street, a man, a woman and a little black dog sat at one of the newly placed outdoor tables with paper cups of coffee and a smoothie to go. They hadn’t been there long, they said, but so far no one else had sat down. They’d walked over from York Street and were enjoying the morning. “They’re careful in there. We’ve been here before. And everybody’s wearing masks in there, so that’s a good sign,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

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In fact, most people out on the streets downtown wore a mask, but often it was tucked under their noses or even their chins as if they hadn’t quite committed to the new attire. “It does upset me that a lot of people do not wear masks when they’re out,” said the man, Gary. He’d tested negative for the virus the day before. “I understand why because it’s a little sweat box. But I think it’s important to protect other people, mainly.”

On Chapel Street, traffic was as light as it’s been for two months, and parking was plentiful. The kiosks outside Yale Repertory Theatre still announced A Raisin in the Sun, a production that never made it to the stage. Outside Hull’s Art Supply, which has been operating on a more limited basis throughout the pandemic, a cheerful sandwich board announced the shop was open from 10 to 4. But not for browsing. The doors were locked, and customers were invited to knock if they needed specific supplies.

One lucky restaurant, Harvest, has no dearth of outdoor seating. Staff had spread out nine tables on the sunken patio, although so far only one was full, hosting the very first post-shutdown customers. Manager Wilson Siguenza had already sent one member of the party away to get a mask before he could be seated. “At least it’s something. We can start with that,” Siguenza said.

Broadway was equally quiet. A few people lingered at the island tables with takeout food, but only two retail shops appeared to be open. At GANT, staffers said they’d had a knock or two on the door before their noon opening and expected some customers later. They were busy steaming and displaying a new line for summer.

Across the way at Urban Outfitters, manager Ashley Henrikson was feeling a bit less optimistic. “It’s too soon,” she said, adding that 12 customers had been in to browse, but no one had made a purchase, and foot traffic was way down, with no Yale students and no summer programs scheduled. “There needs to be more information about this virus,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for the state to put citizens at risk if they don’t need to.” The company, she said, was taking good care of its employees, “but, obviously, once the state says you’re good to go…”

Over in East Rock, Joel LaChance had emerged from his home and set up his mobile bike repair business—“The Goatville Cyclesmith, A Shade Tree Mechanic”—on the corner outside Enoteca Cassanova, where tables were slated to go up Friday. Under a red and black umbrella, LaChance’s tools were laid out on top of his cart, and a couple of bikes were set up on repair stands. “It’s nice,” he said of the sunny weather as cyclists whizzed by and a friend showed up hauling several bags of recyclables. “My cutoff is 60 degrees.” LaChance had two appointments scheduled, and a couple of other potential customers had already ridden by and said they’d be back.

As the day progressed and evening set in, things seemed to pick up. Traveling up State Street, a dozen or more diners were spotted at September in Bangkok, Christopher Martins and Oak Haven. Back downtown, the atmosphere at Temple Grill was downright festive as about 20 patrons occupied seven outdoor tables. Masks were offered at the entrance, but the most noticeable accoutrements were cigars.

Still, the busiest spot in town may have been the COVID-19 testing site at Long Wharf, where mid-afternoon about 20 cars stood in neat parallel lines, heading into a series of big white tents. A sea of orange cones behind them indicated greater capacity.

What remains to be seen is how risk-tolerant New Haveners will turn out to be, now that healthy folks aged 0 to 65 are welcome to be out and about. “Wear your mask and you’re fine,” said the woman at G Café with a shrug. But on Wednesday, at least, it seemed most locals weren’t yet ready to join her.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 (of a sign posted at Urban Outfitters) and 3 (of the scene at Temple Grill) photographed by Dan Mims. Images 2 (of Gary outside Café G) and 4 (of Joel LaChance) photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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