The prospect of some warm weather over a long Memorial Day weekend could mean large crowds around City Dock in Annapolis.
This week, city officials have jumped into action preparing signs, a social media blitz and deploying a group of volunteers who will encourage the use of face masks and standing six feet apart, which had been lacking the weekend prior.
Members the Annapolis Community Emergency Response Team will be walking around downtown handing out masks and gently encouraging people to keep six feet apart, said assistant Office of Emergency Management Director David Mandell.
“They’re basically going to present themselves as goodwill ambassadors trying to encourage folks to be safe, make sure they know the rules with regard to social distancing, and practice kindness and safety and make sure people are aware of everything that we need to think about right now with COVID being such a threat,” he said.
Mayor Gavin Buckley announced Friday that retailers could allow one customer at a time, a departure from county guidance which only allows curbside pick-up and delivery. The following day, City Dock was crowded with visitors, some of whom weren’t wearing masks.
There were also reports of people drinking alcoholic beverages in public over the weekend. Buckley reiterated that restaurants may only provide pick-up or carry out and alcohol must be consumed at home.
“My challenge is, how do you tell people not to come downtown to your state capital, you know?” he said. “But I would ask people if they are going to come to wear a mask and to keep six feet away from people.”
In response to the crowds at City Dock last weekend, Annapolis resident Kathy Dahl wrote an email to Buckley and other city officials asking them to find creative ways to enforce the social distancing and facemask recommendations without being punitive.
Many of the visitors were likely from out of town and might not know masks are recommended to both inside and out, Dahl wrote. “We want the city to enforce the rules that people wear masks and social distance.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Dahl said, “Gavin is very creative in solving problems and making it some way that is not punitive. ... We want our guests to be safe and we want to be safe.”
Two variable signs will be placed around town to reinforce the message and other signs will be attached to parking meters, Mandell said.
Additional Annapolis police officers will be on duty over the weekend from Saturday to Monday, police spokeswoman Patti Norris said.
A third sign will be near Truxtun Park, advising visitors that while the parks are open for gatherings of less than 10 people, some services like the athletic fields, bathrooms and water fountains will still be closed, Mandell said.
“We want folks to have a great time this holiday weekend. The weather is improving and getting nice and warm and we just want people to be safe, and have fun."
Mixed feelings from business owners
As downtown businesses gear up for a surge in visitors, some owners have mixed feelings about reopening their shops despite the possibility of a high volume of weekend foot traffic.
Back Creek Books owner Rock Toews said his Main Street store will be available by appointment or if someone happens to knock on the door, but he doesn’t plan to leave his door open.
Toews doesn’t have enough staff to both serve customers and make sure only one person enters the store at a time as allowed by Buckley’s order, he said, adding that the guidance from officials at all levels of government about reopening has left him confused about whether he can open at all. Anne Arundel County has slowed its reopening compared to the state.
“It’s very frustrating given that officials think they’re loosening things or granting you something by saying you can have one person," Toews said. "That’s actually probably more harmful than not. It would actually cost you more to monitor that and make that happen than it would to simply be closed.”
Shades on the Bay will be open this weekend, said owner Linda Mann. Mann said she has taken precautions such as requiring shoppers to first use hand sanitizer before they can touch any merchandise and sterilizing anything they try on.
“It’s much safer to walk into my store than it is to walk into Walmart, Sam’s Club or Target. Here in my store, you know before you touch it," she said. “Come on in, let’s have a party.”
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Fern Elliott, owner of Lilac Bijoux, opened her store for limited hours for the first time last weekend and will do so again for Memorial Day.
Elliott said she feels a mix of excitement to get business and apprehension about her safety.
“I’m excited but at the same time I’m trying my best to sanitize everything,” she said. “When they leave, I steam the clothes. Clorox wipes everywhere. There’s always going to be concern, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Cruises on the Bay water taxi services will be provided throughout the weekend, said Debbie Gosselin, owner of Watermark.
Boats that typically carry a max of 17 will be limited to eight passengers, Gosselin said, and masks will be required.