ST. ALBANS CITY – As of Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., all restaurants and bars in Vermont have closed, with only takeout and delivery options available – and St. Albans City’s food scene has had to change in step.
In an executive order issued Monday, Gov. Phil Scott, following the lead of several other states, ordered restaurants and bars to close their dine-in options in order to further limit the possible spread of the novel coronavirus responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In the days preceding Scott’s orders, restaurants in St. Albans’s downtown had already started taking steps toward curbside pickup services and extending takeout, with mainstays like Mimmo’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, and Jeff’s Maine Seafood advertising as such on Facebook.
Further up the street, 14th Star Brewing Company said it would shut down its taproom and move to a “cans-to-go-only” format until April 15, with the St. Albans Grazers promising to do the same. “We appreciate you and we will all get through this together,” the brewery said in a Facebook post announcing its decision.
By Tuesday, virtually all of the eateries in St. Albans City appeared to follow in suit.
Some, like the newly reopened Tatro’s Soup and Sandwich on Kingman Street, had extended their delivery services by additional hours to compensate, with owner Kim Murphy telling the Messenger, “The phone’s already been ringing for takeout and delivery.”
Still, according to Murphy, an order to close restaurants cast a lot of uncertainty over storeowners like herself.
“We really just have to see how it plays out,” Murphy, who recently reopened Tatro’s alongside her husband Jim Scouten, said. “It’s scary. We’re keeping things clean hourly and I don’t foresee a line out the door like we normally see.”
“We’ll cut back staff as we need, and obviously those jobs are held open for them,” Murphy added. “If it comes down to a skeleton crew of myself, my husband and our son, that’s what we’ll do.”
In another part of the downtown, the Catalyst Coffee Bar geared up for its own transition to takeout-only services.
According to owner Karen Scheffler, the Catalyst was working on a way to have orders taken online while the governor’s restaurant closure was in effect, and the café was still open for in-person orders at the counter.
“It’s definitely quieter... and if people aren’t allowed to sit, I think it’s going to be even quieter,”
Scheffler said. “Of course I have concerns, but I’m hopeful we’ll be able to stay in business beyond this.”
While the order is in effect until April 6, Scott warned in a subsequent statement the order could be extended if needed and that “additional reductions or prohibitions may be implemented or amended as needed.”
The order came alongside others calling for a limiting of public gatherings to either 50 people or 50 percent of a building’s occupancy, as well as other orders transitioning government staff to working remotely and limiting person-to-person contact with the public.
“I want Vermonters to know we’re continuously evaluating other mitigation steps and we’ll continue to communicate those as they are put into place,” Scott said in a statement. “It’s important to remember that in times of crisis we all need to make sacrifices, but Vermonters, and all Americans, have risen to many challenges before, and this time will be no different.”
Mimmo’s has since announced it would be closing for the duration of the ordered restaurant closure after Thursday, saying it would spend the closure “sanitizing and sprucing the whole place up” before promising to “reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.”
While admitting there were some fears going forward – both for her staff’s health and for her business – Scheffler said some of those fears were settled by an outpouring of community support for the Catalyst Coffee Bar.
Behind the counter, a few treats gifted to the coffee shop – some brownies and an Easter squirrel made from chocolate – sat beside the register, and the coffee shop seemed perpetually at its now-halved capacity in the hours before a ban on dine-in services went into effect.
“I feel so grateful,” Scheffler said. “People are coming in and saying ‘We’re going to make sure you don’t close and we’re going to come in for our coffee no matter what.’
“I think that’s just beautiful.”