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With mix of enthusiasm and caution, Baltimore City businesses move to next phase of COVID-19 recovery

A sign outlining rules of conduct Saturday at Su Casa Furniture in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The city moved at 5 p.m. Friday to the next phase of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, allowing indoor dining, indoor fitness classes and other easing of restrictions.
A sign outlining rules of conduct Saturday at Su Casa Furniture in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. The city moved at 5 p.m. Friday to the next phase of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, allowing indoor dining, indoor fitness classes and other easing of restrictions. (Sameer/Sameer Rao)

On Saturday, as the skies above them alternated between rainy and sunny, the business owners and patrons of Baltimore’s restaurants and stores took additional steps toward the next phase of the city’s reopening.

For the city’s many restaurants and bars, which can now open indoor seating at 50% capacity, the news of Phase 2 was a welcome respite from the hits they and their workers had taken over the past months.

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“It’s a lot of cleaning, a lot of preparing, a lot of hiring the staff back, getting them all prepared, training,” said Antonia Araviakis, the general manager at Riptide on Thames Street in Fells Point. “We’re really happy that this is happening.”

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Friday that the city was moving to Phase 2. In addition to the dining establishment provisions, Young’s declaration meant that libraries, gyms, nonessential offices, personal service businesses, religious establishments and numerous others can open at 50% capacity.

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A crowd at The Point in Fells, a restaurant in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, one day after Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young announced that the city was moving to phase 2 of the city's coronavirus recovery plan.
A crowd at The Point in Fells, a restaurant in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, one day after Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young announced that the city was moving to phase 2 of the city's coronavirus recovery plan. (Sameer Rao/The Baltimore Sun)

A busy Fells Point waterfront district on Saturday showed that many businesses are taking advantage of the easing restrictions. Business owners and managers noted that this is accompanied by sanitizing as much of their spaces as possible.

Eva Chin, a co-owner of The Point in Fells Point, was not worried by the crowds — with each individual party, some of which numbered as large as six people, largely maintaining 6 feet of distance — inside her restaurant. She explained that the restaurant structured bar seats and tables to keep the appropriate distance, sanitized surfaces frequently and otherwise took the recommended safety protocols seriously.

“We’re trying to do what we’re supposed to do and abide by the rules,” she said.

Still, she acknowledged that there’s only so much that can be done in a neighborhood as crowded and popular for revelry as Fells Point.

“Fells Point is one of these places where everybody’s on top of each other,” she said.

Many nonessential retailers got a break a week earlier, when Young allowed them to open at 50% capacity. Several businesses in Fells Point, including Su Casa Furniture, took advantage of that option. Signs outside and inside that store require patrons to wear masks and sanitize their hands as soon as they walk in.

“I feel that we’ve taken all the necessary precautions: CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], with the governor and now the mayor [since] he’s on board,” said Su Casa general manager Brian Donnell. “So, we feel good. We welcome people in. We keep our door shut just so that we can control it a bit more.”

Not every establishment that could open at reduced capacity did so immediately. The rules permitted the National Aquarium and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to both open at 50% occupancy. Neither was open as of Saturday, but the aquarium was working toward a July 1 opening and the zoo said on its website that it would open Wednesday to members.

A representative for Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, also permitted to reopen, did not return a request for comment, but the casino’s website announced a June 28 reopening.

Likewise, not every dining establishment that has indoor seating has taken advantage of it. Suspended Brewing Company in Pigtown has kept up its to-go beer services, but not opened its taproom to patrons.

“We thought about it, the way that we could possibly do [indoor seating], it might have only 18 seats,” said Suspended co-owner Yasmin Karimian. “To run that type of business, the operating costs would go up tremendously and we probably wouldn’t make up enough to cover our day-to-day.”

Head chef John Neavear of The Greener Kitchen, down Washington Boulevard from Suspended, likewise kept to carryout and delivery as they had been doing.

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“The [coronavirus] numbers still are pretty scary, and we don’t want to take any risks,” Neavear said.

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