After new guidelines for “Phase One” of Maryland’s reopening plan were announced, Carroll County was moving quickly to embrace the changes with local governments vowing to help restaurants get back to business.
Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, restaurants may open for outdoor dining as long as different groups are seated at least 6 feet apart and staff follows strict sanitation and symptom screening rules.
For restaurants in Carroll that already had outdoor dining space, many plan to open as soon as the guidelines allow. Others with less outdoor space hope for approval to convert sections of parking lots and other areas.
Thursday morning at their open session, the county commissioners were enthusiastic about the news, announced by Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday evening. About two weeks prior they sent a letter asking the state to allow outdoor dining.
Restaurants that wish to add or expand temporary outdoor seating where it didn’t exist are to submit a simple drawing of their plan to county Inspector Keith Benfer at email@example.com. Restaurants inside town or city limits should reach out to their municipal councils individually.
Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin said the Chamber will advocate for Carroll municipalities to get creative and help restaurants find more space for outdoor seating. He hopes to even see towns close down parts of streets for a few hours to turn them into outdoor seating areas.
“Anything that could be done to help these [restaurants] actually live through the COVID-19,″ he said. Other than takeout, restaurants have been closed since mid-March because of executive orders aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
In Sykesville, the Downtown Sykesville Connection worked with businesses and the town council even before Wednesday’s announcement to get ready.
Rachael Beck of E.W. Beck’s said they will be opening Friday at 5 p.m. on the outside patio with about nine tables. They’re working with the town to hopefully add more seating in the rear parking lot. To prepare, she said they’re doing training with staff and looking at software for contact-free payment and waitlist paging.
The French Twist Café will open for dinner Friday, said owner Helene Twist. They spent Thursday measuring out the patio for tables. Though it hasn’t been fun for employees to wear a mask while cooking crêpes over a 400-degree grill, she said they haven’t complained. Patapsco Distilling Company right down the street has been their source for hand sanitizer, she said.
“We’re as OK as we can be,” she said. “We are definitely not at where we need to be to break even, but hopefully that will pick up.”
New Windsor worked Thursday on a plan to put out seven new picnic tables to make 11 around town, hoping to give residents a place to enjoy takeout outdoors. They are also in contact with the town’s two eat-in retardants, Councilmember Kimberlee Schultz said.
Mayor Neal Roop said the idea came from Mount Airy Mayor Pat Rockinberg, whose town will also be adding picnic tables for dining.
Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones said the town is willing to work with restaurants to help get up and running with new ares for outdoor seating. They have some limitations because the town’s Main Street is Md. 75 and has major truck traffic, he said.
Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin said the town wants to be flexible within reason to allow restaurants "whatever will make sense to help them get back on their feet,” he said. He also hopes that Hogan will quickly move the state to where restaurants can have indoor seating.
In Westminster, restaurants asked the city to support them with plans for outdoor dining early on.
“I am hopeful that there will be a silver lining to this bad situation and downtown Westminster will become a place to come and dine alfresco even after this is over," Councilmember Tony Chiavacci said,
Jim Breuer, owner of Maggie’s in Westminster, said the restaurant plans to open with five tables on its patio Friday at 5 p.m. as long as they can finish printing out menus in time. While they have been doing takeout, they have been doing maintenance and cleaning around the restaurant “so that ultimately when we can open, we will be ready,” he said.
Going forward, he is hoping to convert part of the parking lot into a dining area in an open-sided tent.
Kristy Harrison, of Rafael’s’ in Westminster, said they plan to open Friday at 5 p.m. on their deck out back. They’ve been in touch with the Health Department to try to get all of the little logistical questions out of the way.
“We’re excited that we’re able to do that. We miss all of our regulars very much,” she said. She hopes it will help the restaurant out financially and “give people a little bit of normalcy that people need right now.”
Outdoor pools may reopen at 25% capacity with strict sanitation measures in place, according to the new guidelines. For many it will take a while to get their annual inspections completed and their facilities set up.
Though it’s not for lack of enthusiasm.
“As soon as [Hogan] speaks, everybody wants you to open the next day,” Freedom Swim Club President Brent Stewart said with a laugh.
They optimistically are hoping to open June 15 if they can get their inspection scheduled and bring in the company that opens and closes the pool each year. They have been meeting regularly to plan for different opening scenarios because, “When it was going to happen, it was going to happen pretty quickly,” Stewart said.
Westminster announced in mid-May that the city pool would not be opening this summer for the 2020 season. When asked Thursday if the city would reconsider, Director of Recreations and Parks Abby Gruber said she couldn’t answer anything with certainty.
The Westminster Riding Club is planning to open its pool. If they can get their annual inspection taken care of, they’d like to do so as early as the weekend of June 5, said Club Manager Amy Edgington. The pool is clean and the covers are off, she said, and staff have been slowly getting things ready over the last month.
Carroll County Breaking News
The Lineboro-Manchester Lions Club Swimming Pool is planning to open, said President Roger Stultz, by July 1, he hopes. The pool committee met to come up with a compliance plan. And they hope that later in the summer, guidelines might allow for 50% capacity.
Many day camps that had already canceled their summer 2020 programs have decided not to change plans. Day camps are allowed to start outdoor activities in groups no more than 10. Children and staff must wear masks and the camps must perform daily COVID-19 symptom checks.
Carroll Community College’s on-campus Kids@Carroll education camps will be all-online this year. They don’t plan to alter this decision after Hogan’s announcement. More information about online camps is available at www.carrollcc.edu. “We will miss seeing our amazing campers in person, but we are planning some awesome things for next year,” said Coordinator of Lifelong Learning Cassandra Casey.
The Boys & Girls Club of Westminster’s Marketing Director Erin Bishop said in an email that the organization “is currently developing new curriculum and putting guidelines in place to make sure we that when we are allowed to open that we can provide a safe and fun experience for our kids this summer. We are planning to host summer camp in 2020 but at a much lower capacity than in past years. Our camp dates and enrollment numbers are still to be determined based on guidelines from the governor. Enrollment forms are available on our website at www.bgcwestminster.org and should be mailed to the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster.”
The city of Westminster plans to make the official call on the city-sponsored camps by June 1.
The nature day camps held by the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks will also remain canceled. Director of Recreation and Parks Jeff Degitz said they are looking at providing alternate programming this summer to give people outdoor activities to look forward to at the parks. They’re also looking at “camp in a box” kits for families to take home. Updates will be available on their website and Facebook page.
“There will still be plenty to do this summer, lots of good things to do outside,” Degitz said.