Marlborough eyes reopening restaurants and more after COVID-19 shutdowns


By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Marlborough eyes reopening restaurants and more after COVID-19 shutdowns
Tables and chairs from a downtown Marlborough restaurant spill onto the sidewalk in anticipation of outdoor dining, which is now allowed under Gov. Charlie Baker’s Phase Two coronavirus reopening plan. (Photo by/Dakota Antelman)

Marlborough – Downtown restaurants may soon sprawl dining onto sidewalks along Marlborough’s Main St. as the city takes new steps to reopen its economy in the coming weeks after three months of COVID-19 shutdowns, officials say.

Starting June 8, Phase Two of Gov. Charlie Baker’s tiered reopening plan for the state allowed restaurants to offer sit down service in out-door seating areas in addition to reopening libraries, playgrounds and retail stores among other things.

“I think folks want to get out again,” Marlborough Health Director John Garside said, specifically focusing on the food establishments his staff inspects and oversees. “If people are assured that these protocols are in place, I think they’ll want to visit our local restaurants again.”

With some gaps in the governor’s guidelines and built in discretion allotted to municipalities, officials governing the region’s largest municipal economic area say they’re committed to reviving the economy while maintaining safety.

To do so, they say they need buy in from the very businesses itching to open.

“A lot of these regulations are in place and we’re there to enforce them,” he said. “At the end of the day, though, we ask for community cooperation.”

As most area enforcement agencies have done, the Marlborough Board of Health, Garside said, will aim to not be punitive in its efforts to carry out Gov. Baker’s orders.

Indeed, he said he and his staff have responded consistently since COVID-19 hit to reports of infractions ranging from businesses operating in defiance of shutdown orders, to failure to wear masks.

Through it all, the city has issued none of the non-criminal citations they’re technically allowed to hand out to such violators.

“We’re really trying to work with people and educate them,” he said. “We’re really using the fines as a last resort.”

Garside said he expects to maintain such a policy of education and understanding through phase two of the city’s reopening.

In terms of what will change, he said he and aids are working to clear as many hurdles out of the path of businesses looking to take advantage of the outdoor dining that will soon be allowed again.

“We’re trying to make sure it’s a very streamlined process,” he said.

No matter how streamlined things are, however, business leaders, largely thankful for city government collaboration throughout the crisis, say the community has financial wounds that will not soon heal.

Business owners have lost money. Unsold perishables have spoiled. Individual employees sit having been unable to work for months.

Recently, Joy Asia, a beloved local restaurant announced it has closed for good. Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Schlacter indicated others are hurting badly as well.

“The reality of it is that this has been so devastating that some will not be able to come back,” he said.

Long past the days when masks stop being necessary, and long after customers get to venture back into commercial dining rooms, Schlacter said, the echoes of these months of closure will persist in the memories of the businesses that did not make it through, and in the structural changes the coronavirus seems to have accelerated.

From a customer base now introduced to robust e-commerce systems, to expectations of curbside pickup options, the world has changed.

It’s facts like those, the structural changes, that Schlacter says will be perhaps the most pressing and challenging issues for business leaders to confront as they evolve to their new normal operations, even with the support of city agencies.

“The folks who are able to adapt and change their business model are finding a way,” he said. “But it’s so difficult because there is no history and no playbook.”

To learn more about all the businesses eligible to reopen in Phase 2 of Gov. Baker’s plan, see this link:

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