Businesses, performing arts gear up for Phase 3

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

MILFORD — Businesses, outdoor venues and indoor performing arts facilities throughout Milford are gearing up for Phase 3 of the state’s opening from the pandemic.

The details were announced Thursday by Gov. Ned Lamont, and will take effect Oct. 8. Phase 3 involves an increase from 50 percent to 75 percent capacity indoors — subject to COVID-19 safety requirements — for restaurants, personal services, hair salons, barbershops and libraries. Additionally, outdoor event venues will increase from 25 percent to 50 percent capacity.

Bars and nightclubs will continue to remain closed.

Julie Nash, Milford’s director of economic and community development, said this is what the city has been waiting for.

“Adding this 50 to 75 is going to make a great difference for the winter months,” she said.

Dining options

Many restaurants are now looking at different options to make outdoor seating more comfortable in cold weather, such as using fire pits and outdoor ice bars.

Additionally, she said those that utilize outdoor tents are considering adding sides onto them. Right now, this isn’t allowed by fire department, but this could change, she said.

She added that many restaurants in the city have transformed “desolate ugly parking lots” into beautiful outdoor restaurant facilities.

Arts venues

Also changed in Phase 3 is the indoor performing arts venues, which will be able to open at 50 percent capacity

“This is huge because our little arts theaters have been struggling along without being able to fill their audience and sell tickets,” Nash said.

She added that a lot of the arts centers help the restaurant business since many are located in the same area.

“Having them have the ability to sell tickets to shows will buoy the downtown restaurants,” she said.

Paige Miglio, executive director of the Milford Arts Council, said prior to the pandemic, the council presented the arts 220 times a year, drawing an estimated 12,000 people annually.

When the arts closed in mid-March, the challenge was letting people know that they weren’t dead in town.

“We just wanted to let everybody know that we were not going away,” Miglio said. “We are almost 50 years old, we are not going to disappear.”

While working remotely, the MAC created programs, and also held committee meetings remotely. For example, the Eastbound Community Theater Group began presenting live-streamed one-act plays called “Homebound with Eastbound.”

Virtual online gallery exhibition went from a 300- to 400 in-person viewing to over 3,000 views online, Miglio said.

It was so successful, said Miglio, that she’ll be keeping the online gallery going forward.

Additionally, the MAC will present a live exhibit in a few weeks, which is called “The story of women” and celebrates women’s right to vote.

It will be open from mid-October to mid November, for limited visitations, for between 25 to 40 people at a time.

“We will also present that online for people who are not comfortable and people who have found us from distances,” Miglio said. “Submissions will be hung in the gallery space at the MAC as well as be visible online through our website.”

“We are trying to pivot and reimagine ourselves,” said Miglio, who has been involved with the MAC for about 10 years.

“Going forward with the Phase 3 opening, we will really need to assess our space. It’s still a very small space,” she said.

The MAC is now talking with city officials about utilizing Parson’s Veterans Memorial Hall, as well as outside concerts at Eisenhower Park.

Miglio is also considering developing a concert series that would produce four to six concerts next year.

Making customers comfortable

Bob Chicoine, owner of Dockside Brewery at 40 Bridgeport Ave., said Phase 3 doesn’t change anything for him.

“Our capacity on the inside is not that large,” he said. “It’s more about the tables. At 50 percent capacity, we are maxed out with a six-foot distance.”

While Dockside has 12 tables indoors, it has benefited all summer, according to Chicoine, due to its outdoor seating area, which can hold 32 tables.

“That’s one of the things people have been happy with,” he said.

However, he added more recently, customers appear to be getting more comfortable coming inside.

“We have a sanitizer, a buser, a runner and server,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to make customers feel comfortable.”

He plans on leaving the tables outside in the colder months, since there are many nice, sunny days when it would be pleasant to sit outdoors, he said.

By Nov. 1, Dockside has plans on enclosing and putting heaters inside the top deck.

‘On track’

In regard to the reopening of Connecticut, Milford Mayor Ben Blake said there is a reopen Milford committee, where there’s a representative from each of the “various industry experts and healthcare professionals, whose advice we are relying on heavily.”

There are about 400 restaurants in Milford, he said.

Blake added while there have been some restaurants that have closed their doors for good due to the pandemic, other are doing well, including some that opened during the height of the pandemic.

“We’ve had 500 new business open each year. We’re on track for that,” Blake said. “We’ve been very successful in terms of new business and expanding existing business that have been here for awhile — this is helping out our grand list.”