‘We are getting by’: Mass. restaurant hopeful lifting curfew will bring in more customers

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SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Starting next week, Massachusetts businesses will no longer have to adhere to a statewide curfew.

It’s something that many restaurants have been waiting for, including the Old Grist Mill Tavern in Seekonk.

But Jim Jones, who workers at Old Grist Mill Tavern, said while they’re appreciative that Gov. Charlie Baker is lifting the 9:30 p.m. curfew, it’s the state’s capacity restriction that’s hurting them the most.

“We are just getting by,” he said. “It has been a tough year, let me put it to you that way.”

Baker said the statewide curfew will no longer be in effect starting on Monday, but the 25% capacity limit will remain in place until at least Feb. 8.

“We all know we are not out of the woods yet, but things appear to be getting better here in Massachusetts,” Baker said. “As a result, we believe it’s time to start a gradual easing of the restrictions we put in place in the fall.”

Jones said due to the size of the restaurant, they have enough room to spread guests out, and the capacity limit isn’t allowing them to serve as many guests as they would like.

“It would help the business, help all of us,” Jones said if Baker were to lift the capacity restriction.

The lifted curfew is expected to help bars and late-night recreational places. Casinos, liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries will also be able to stay open later.

While lifting the curfew is a start, Jones said their restaurant can safely handle more diners and they’re eager to get more plates on their tables.

“It will help the business, help all of us,” Jones said.

Across the border in Rhode Island, restaurants still have to abide by the state’s 10 p.m. curfew.

While Rhode Island’s case positivity and hospitalization rates have been trending downward since early December, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said it would be premature to lift the curfew now.

“We are at a solid place right now. We wouldn’t want to make changes too early … that would put all businesses at risk,” Alexander-Scott said.

Francois Karam, owner of Opa Restaurant on Federal Hill, said as expected, there’s been a significant decline in guests since the city’s “Al Fresco Dining” initiative wrapped up in October.

“It’s been really tough,” Karam said. “The last three or four months or so have been really slow. Unfortunately, my staff hours had to be cut by 80%.”

Karam said it’s not just the winter weather that’s made business more difficult, however. The state’s early closing mandate and restricted bar access are both crippling businesses like his.

“You know if these big companies around us can stay open past 10 o’clock, and you can go shopping past 10 o’clock, why can’t we serve food and some type of service to people?” he said.

He’s hoping Rhode Island will follow Massachusetts’ lead sooner rather than later, for the sake of not only his business, but others as well.

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