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Antsy Diners Flock To Patio Seating As Governor OK's Outdoor Dining

Bailey's Cafe on Thursday
Lucas Willard
Bailey's Cafe on Thursday

Thursday marked the return of outdoor dining in areas across New York under Phase Two of reopening guidelines.

Downtown Saratoga Springs looked like it was finally waking up Thursday afternoon.

Schuylerville High School students Carleigh Yager and Emily Walbroehl were eating burgers under an awning with their friend Savannah Gordon, an Ohio University student.

“So I was just really happy because I was like, finally, I get somewhat of a life back,” said Yager.

“Sick of being stuck inside,” said Walbroehl.

A couple blocks away, at a full patio outside Bailey’s Café, manager Heather Shyptycki said her phone was ringing constantly as the restaurant made accommodations for outdoor diners.

“We’ve just made sure that we’ve measured our 6 feet distance, make sure everybody’s happy. We’re doing all disposable items, disposable menus, being very safe for all that,” said Shyptycki.

But while a handful of restaurants had eager diners congregating on patios Thursday afternoon, many of the tables and chairs that usually line Broadway were not yet set out. Some workers were busily sanitizing their furniture in preparation for happy hour. The return of outdoor dining means many businesses will need to bring back staff who may have been laid off.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly welcomes the return of outdoor dining, but said many businesses were not prepared for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday.

“They weren’t ready when the governor says outdoor dining can happen in a day. So I think you’ll start to see restaurants open up as we speak. Daily we’ll start to see people opening. And people are coming downtown. If you were there a couple weeks ago, it was pretty desolate,” said Kelly.

Kelly said she is working with members of the city council on a change to allow establishments to bring dining outside more easily.

As businesses are getting up to speed, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said his organization will work to inform the public on what’s being reopened.

“We did an email out to every business in Saratoga County that we have in our database yesterday, and invited them to let us know right away by email if they were open. And we’ll use social media to help them push that out,” said Shimkus.

Shimkus hopes that the early return of outdoor dining means other kinds of businesses – entertainment, museums – can also be cleared to bring activities outside.

His biggest wish is for fans to return to Saratoga Springs’ biggest summer tourism draw. Saratoga Race Course is set to open July 16th, but without fans in the stands.

“Because if we can dine out in multiple places with social distancing, why can’t we have fans at the race course, particularly in areas outdoors?”

Indoor dining resumes in Phase Three.  

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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