Local businesses brace for two-week pause

Local businesses brace for two-week pause

R1 Indoor Karting is among the Lincoln businesses bracing for closure next week during the state’s two-week pause.

LINCOLN – From large venues including Twin River Casino and R1 Indoor Karting to neighborhood pubs and local fitness centers, new state mandates beginning next week will impact Lincoln’s hospitality and entertainment businesses across the board.

Starting Nov. 30, indoor dining will be reduced to 33 percent of a restaurant’s capacity, and only takeout and delivery will be allowed after 10 or 10:30 p.m.

Indoors, restaurants can only seat members of the same household at a single table. Outdoors, up to two households are allowed to sit together, as long as they wear masks when not eating or drinking.

During the pause, which will last through Dec. 13, the bar area of restaurants must remain closed to customers.

Gyms and fitness centers will close to indoor activities completely during the pause, and outdoor group fitness classes are not permitted. All indoor recreation and entertainment facilities will also be expected to close, including movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, social clubs, performing arts venues and pool/billiards halls.

Also, effective Nov. 8, all restaurants, bars, gyms, recreational facilities and personal services must shut down at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Despite the challenges, owners of local businesses large and small said they will be doing their part to abide by the new rules.

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R1 Indoor Karting owner Mike Hezemans said he’s prepared to comply with the governor’s two-week pause and completely shut down his entertainment complex on Higginson Avenue, but he questioned the logic behind waiting a week before enacting the pause.

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to wait until after Thanksgiving to shut everything down if the cases are rising now,” Hezemans told The Breeze. “Secondly, without Massachusetts’ businesses shutting down during the same period, we aren’t going to see any changes. People are going to travel 10 minutes to Mass. to go out.”

Hezemans said he’s anticipating that the two-week pause will likely turn into a long-term closure until at least January.

“I’m 99 to 100 percent sure that COVID numbers will be up in two weeks, not down,” he said. “I’m also sure that there’s not one bar or entertainment center that will be open before January.”

For Hezemans and his business, “2020 was a wipeout,” he said. “We’re doing 20 percent of our usual business, and missing all of the parties and gatherings … December is usually one of our best months. It’s going to be a complete mess. The bills don’t pause because we do. We need more help if it goes on like this.”

Bob Celio, general manager of The Lodge Pub and Eatery in Lincoln, said they’re getting used to making changes on the fly, but running a restaurant during coronavirus has been the biggest hurdle Celio has had to overcome in 39 years as general manager.

“This tops it. In 39 years we’ve seen good and bad times, but nothing to this degree,” he said. “We’re definitely concerned about our staff and maintaining their jobs.”

“Like everyone else, we’ll do what we have to do to get through this,” he said. The restaurant offers outdoor dining, but as the nights turn colder, Celio said he expects less and less customers will be interested in dining outside. “We did really well over the summer, but over the last month business has slowed down a lot,” he said.

Rhode Island Hospitality Association president and CEO Dale Venturini said RIHA has been in ongoing conversation with the governor’s office, “with a goal of avoiding the shutdown of indoor dining, as several states across the nation have already mandated.”

Venturini continued, “While we were successful on this point, (the) announcement with additional dining restrictions is tough and could not come at a worse time as we enter the holiday season. However, we understand how difficult these decisions are and appreciate the 10-day lead time to prepare.”

Venturini said RIHA looks forward to evaluating the results of the new restrictions after the two-week period concludes, and that they are currently working with Rhode Island Commerce “to provide additional economic relief to the restaurant industry and its employees beyond the current Restore R.I. program.”

In a statement, Marc Crisafulli, Twin River president and Bally’s Corp. executive vice president, said the casino will also adhere to the temporary closure.

“As we said at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued health and safety of Rhode Islanders must take priority. To that end, we will temporarily close our doors at the Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln and the Tiverton Casino Hotel at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 29, with the hope and expectation that circumstances will allow us to reopen two weeks thereafter,” he said.

He noted that nearly all of the casino’s salaried and hourly workforce will be furloughed upon closure but will be “guaranteed their jobs as the facilities reopen.”