Mandatory 10 p.m. closing lifted, but other restrictions will remain in force for now

(Feb. 5, 2021) Maryland bars and restaurants can stay open past 10 p.m. as of Monday following Gov. Larry Hogan’s emergency order issued last week.

The decision to lift the restriction came from a decline in statewide covid-19 cases, the positivity rate and hospitalizations. 

“With our data trends showing continued improvement, the holiday surges behind us, and the increasing speed of vaccinations, we are now able to take this step,” Hogan stated in a press release. “Marylanders must continue to remain cautious and vigilant in order to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe and healthy.”

The hope is that the later hours of operation will provide more revenue for restaurants and bars impacted by the curfew.

“This much-needed relief for our small businesses will go a long way in helping them stay open for the long haul,” Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) said in a press release of her own.

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Lachelle Scarlato

That should be the result, according to Lachelle Scarlato, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, who said, “A lot of restaurant and bar operators will share with you … that their largest portion of income particularly related to their bar activity comes at the later hours in the evening into the morning.” 

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, concurred.

“I would say anything we can do to move back to some sense of normalcy and normal operating procedures is definitely a move in the right direction,” Jones said. “A lot of the bars have not been operating past 10 p.m. because they couldn’t, so they’ve not had that last couple of hours of business. So, the places that historically have a bigger bar business than a bigger restaurant business, they’ve really been suffering.”

The impact of later operational hours is yet to be seen with a statewide 50 percent indoor capacity for restaurants still in effect.

However, Scarlato has noticed some restaurants in Ocean City have adjusted their outdoor dining to be used year-round to overcome the challenges of limited capacity.

Other benefits of the curfew being lifted are that restaurant staffs can work longer shifts and musicians have more opportunities to perform live.

“Covid has really crippled the live entertainment industry,” Jones said.

With it being the off-season in Ocean City, the success of the later curfew locally is questionable. 

“Particularly with sporting events, holidays, Super Bowl [and] things of that nature, they tend to draw quite a clientele and the revenue that’s associated with that and the longer they can operate certainly gives them a greater opportunity to generate that revenue,” Scarlato said.

Since April 2020, Bill Chambers of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce has led a coordinated effort to speak with state officials as a united front on the Eastern Shore. He has led monthly calls with the state restaurant association president, Jones said. Together, chambers of commerce and restaurant associations have worked to communicate to the governor just how important the restaurant industry is to the economy.

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Susan Jones

Recently, the Restaurant Association of Maryland wrote a letter to the governor requesting more restrictions be lifted and Jones sent it on behalf of more than a dozen county and town associations. 

“We are grateful for your proactive steps to lift the dining curfew and the millions of dollars in restaurant relief funds that you have authorized. However, for restaurants to move fully into a recovery phase, they must be permitted to operate with limited restrictions and customers must begin dining out regularly again,” the letter states. 

“Therefore, we ask that the following restrictions be lifted: restaurant buffets should be permitted to reopen under the guidelines developed by the Maryland Department of Health, increase table capacity limits to 10 people, allow for barriers between booth seating, rather than the mandate to close every other booth, move restaurant employees, who are considered essential workers, to phase 1C of the COVID vaccination plan and allow local jurisdictions to have more control of lifting restrictions rather than just implementing more restrictive measures.”

Jones said the governor’s chief of staff, Amelia Chassé Alcivar, responded to the letter Tuesday morning, stating that Hogan’s administration is prioritizing the recovery of restaurants.

“Our team will certainly take these suggestions into consideration as we continue to pursue a data-driven recovery plan, and please do not hesitate to reach out anytime with additional feedback,” Alcivar wrote.

As a result of covid-19, Abbey Burger Bistro on 126th Street has closed its doors after not opening last summer. Bourbon Street on the Beach, which is owned by Barry Reichart, is expected to open a second location at the former burger joint in the spring. The decision to close BJ’s on the Water on Jan. 31 was also influenced by covid-19.

Additionally, Jonah and The Whale and Paul Revere Smorgasbord did not open last summer because of coronavirus restrictions, Jones said.

Maryland has provided $80 million in economic relief for restaurants through local jurisdictions that enables them to stay open and operate safely.

An additional $30 million has been allocated to the state’s relief program for food service establishments, adding to $50 million announced in October. 

Melanie Pursel, director of the Worcester County Office of Tourism and Economic Development, said the county received $1.4 million the first round and $850,000 the second round from the state.

Currently, restaurant owners who have been affected by the pandemic can apply for grants through the second round of the Worcester County Restaurant Relief Grant Program. Applications will be accepted online on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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Melanie Pursel

“Worcester County’s Restaurant Relief Grant Program provides individual restauranteurs with grant relief to help restaurants with payroll and rent, outdoor dining expenses, site upgrades, carryout tech support, sanitation, and supplies,” Pursel said. 

The Worcester County Economic Development department, in cooperation with an independent review board, will award grants of $5,000.

Applicants are advised to review eligibility requirements and the Frequently Asked Questions prior to applying. Submitting an incomplete or inaccurate application may make an applicant ineligible for program funding. 

“We have had about 160 applicants apply for relief throughout the entire county so far between both rounds of grants,” Pursel said. “Those that already received funds are still eligible to re-apply.”

For more information, contact Michele Burke, business development and retention specialist, at mburke@co.worcester.md.us or at 410-632-3112.

A new grant opportunity is also available for hotels and hospitality businesses across the state. Maryland is distributing a total of $50 million across its jurisdictions based on the percentage of total sales tax revenue generated by the accommodations to the state.

Local hotels must apply through Worcester County for grants. This direct relief can be used for payroll expenses, rent and utilities.

Pursel said 51 hotels have submitted applications at this time.

Both grant programs opened up last week. 

“Any business must have been operational/established before March 9, 2020 to qualify for either program,” Pursel added.

To apply, visit www.choosemarylandscoast.org.

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