In the last few weeks, driving around downtown Westerly and Pawcatuck has been like watching spring bulbs that were planted last fall finally peek out and come to life. There is a renewed energy with more cars buzzing around, open signs appearing in front of businesses that had appeared vacant, and people sitting outside restaurants; a welcoming sight that business is back.
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Since late March, Rhode Island businesses suffered the wrath of COVID-19 with Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo ordering all restaurants, bars, and cafes to close their dine-in sections in order to keep the public safe and to curb the outbreak.
With the onset of COVID -that affected how businesses were conducted- it was a very precarious time for most local business owners and their staff.
Bogue’s Alley owner Amanda Nall said she considered herself lucky.
“We have been busy and haven’t missed a beat.”
Catering, which is a big part of Bogue’s business, took a hit with so many people working from home and parties not happening. But Amanda said everything else remained the same with the early morning coffee-drinking crowd, daily lunch specials, and their very popular take out.
“Every restaurant down here has been helping each other,” said Amanda.
She mentioned numerous Facebook groups that formed to help support the community during this time, with Bogue’s Alley one of the local businesses that donated 200 $10 gift cards to Westerly Hospital.
Brumble Bikes was another business that remained open the last few months, with owner Amos Brumble working solo most days and with a limited staff. He did say sales were down in the first 45 days when COVID-19 first hit but the majority of his customers still continued to buy bikes and get them serviced.
“We have heard from a number of people that say they wanted to patronize local businesses during this time,” says Amos.
Heading down Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck, the open flag waving in front of Mechanic Street Marina is a welcoming beacon. A seasonal business, the small but spirited marina was not able to open on its usual May 1 date according to State of CT Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order. Wife and husband owners Suzie Flores and Jay Douglas are ready to see people get back out on the water.
“We just put our open flag out this past weekend,” says Suzie. “We are hoping the response will be big.”
They offer slip rentals and bait and tackle including all the fish and gear for a great day out on the water. Their kayak rentals will not be available until July. Trying to grow their business the proud owners have extended their hours and have hired local youth as a sign of community support. They also operate Stonington Kelp Farm, which took a big hit during COVID as they couldn’t be at the Stonington Velvet Mill Farmers Market and restaurants were not open to buy their kelp for menu dishes.
“But its been a great year to explore other possible ways we can branch out such as with selling spices,” says Suzie. “It forced me to take the next step.”
Missing your favorite sports pub? C.C. O’Brien’s has been missing you! Even though the popular sports bar has been open for take-out, not being able to serve food inside and at the bar has been disappointing to owner Caroline O’Brien.
“Our customers have been great and we have missed them.”
In the last week, colorful umbrellas and tables outline their parking lot as they have moved their seating outside to accommodate customers. They offer their usual pub fare outside Sunday to Thursday 3-8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Caroline and her daughter Amanda, who works as a bartender, are looking forward to the June 17 date when they can open for inside business at 50 percent capacity, however with no bar service.
Amigos Taqueria Y Tequila is serving up their $3 Taco Tuesday Tertulia! People can dine in, safely spaced apart, or sit at one of their sidewalk outside tables under the colorful Sol Cerveza flags. Wendy Carr, Amigos Manager said they are “very happy to be outside” since the ordinance was lifted during this time allowing businesses to offer outdoor seating. Even though they have remained open for take out the last couple of months, overall it has been a challenge with their indoor seating shut down and parties and events canceled.
“The response from the community has been great,” says Wendy. “I think people need to experience it, feel comfortable; I think we are ready to be out.”