Chamber News

Needham / Newton
December 09, 2020 Likes Comments

Many businesses expected worst

That sound you heard yesterday at about 2 p.m. were restaurateurs, retailers, fitness club operators and other small business owners exhaling.

That’s because -- although Gov. Charlie Baker dialed back a number of restrictions yesterday -- the measures were not as harsh as many businesses feared; some experts wanted; or editorials called for.
 
Starting Sunday, restaurant owners, for example, need to limit table seating to six customers (rather than 10) and guests can only linger for 90 minutes. Retailers have to return to prior capacity limits and most must shut down dressing rooms. Offices need to roll back capacity to 40 percent.
 
But many of the businessfolks I spoke with feared something harsher.
 
Many feared being shut down going into the crucial holiday season; losing sales and being stuck with seasonal inventory, which would have been the likely death knell for some.
 
They're also worried about what would happen to their employees, given the looming expiration of more than two dozen federal stimulus programs designed to help cash-strapped workers and businesses.
 
Whether or not Baker's latest steps will flatten the curve; take pressure off our hospitals; or even mitigate our latest nationwide shortage, remains to be seen.
 
But absent the of kind financial relief that accompanied the spring shutdown, yesterday's cautious rollback likely preserved many jobs and livelihoods.
 
What's rolling back
 
Baker is returning the state to Phase 3, Step 1 statewide starting Sunday. (Not every municipality had even been at Step 2 but those in our footprint were.)
 
Under the rollback, indoor theaters and performance venues and high contact indoor recreation businesses (roller skating, laser tag, trampolines, etc.) will need to close.
 
Offices, libraries, retail shops, health clubs, museums, arcades, golf facilities, movie theaters and houses of worship need to reduce capacity.
 
But, in many cases, they’ve been operating at numbers lower than that already.
 
And there's new mask rules
 
There's also new rules about wearing face coverings. Office workers must now wear them at all times; except when in their own, socially distanced, workspace. Masks must now also be worn at all times in gyms.
 
Restaurant goers must cover up; except when eating or drinking -- a regulation that every waiter and waitress (and their families or roommates) likely appreciates.
 
Back in October when Phase 3, Step 2 went into effect the state’s positivity rate stood at 1.1 percent and 473 COVID patients were hospitalized. As of Monday, the average positivity rate was 5.46 percent and 1,516 COVID patients were hospitalized, according to State House News.
 
Baker has said Phase 4 is dependent on a vaccine.
 
Here's the new office, restaurant & gym guidelines:
  • In offices, employees must wear masks at their place of work when not in their own workspace and alone
  • Employers are encouraged to close or limit the use of break rooms.
  • Patrons must wear masks at all times in gyms.
  • Restaurant customers must wear masks at all times except when eating and drinking.
  • Restaurants must seat no more than six patrons per table (reduced from 10).
  • Restaurants must impose a 90-minute time limit on tables.
  • Musical performances at restaurants will no longer be permitted.
  • Food court seating must be closed in malls.
  • Customers are encouraged to dine only with members of the same household.
For retailers: Most fitting rooms must be closed, only those deemed a necessary component of the business are allowed to remain in use, such as in bridal or formal wear shops. Stores must limit occupancy and mall operators must limit occupancy to 40 percent.
 
Up next: Vaccine roll out plan
 
Baker will be back at the podium today, outlining the plan for rolling out the plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccine.
 
The state is expecting to receive 300,000 first doses by the end of December, with health care workers at the front of the line to receive them, followed by long-term care facilities.
 
Just where the rest of us fall in line remains to be seen. (I’m right behind a mere 268.7 million people in the U.S. and 5.4 million folks in Massachusetts, according to that New York Times calculator and willing to wait my turn.)
 
But let’s hope that -- along with all our front line and essential workers and those with underlying conditions -- there’s a place towards the front of those brave men and women who were willing to participate in the trials, but received a placebo.
 
Meanwhile there’s a fierce debate brewing nationally as various industries – including teachers, retail, food processing, food delivery, truck drivers, etc. – lobby to get their workers to the front of the line, Reuters reports.
 
“Everybody is going to be jockeying for a place in line,” says one union representative.
 
Today’s three need to knows
  • Looking for a festive meal while home for the holidays? We’ve just created this directory featuring local restaurants offering special holiday menus. And if you don’t see anything of interest this morning, check back, we’re still updating the list. (If you're a restaurant owner/manager and you would like to be added to this list, emailing info@nnchamber.com)
  • If your business or nonprofit has been victimized by a fraudulent unemployment claim, learn how to report that here. Employees can file a fraud report by following the guidance found here.
  • The Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation has opened a grant program to support child care providers. The program provides capital to nonprofit childcare centers and out-of-school-time centers seeking to renovate or develop new high-quality learning space for children living in low-income communities. Applications are due tomorrow (Dec. 10) .More here.
Newton Panera closing next week
 
After a decade, the Panera Bread in Newton Centre will be serving its last Asiago bagel next Tuesday (Dec. 15). The lease on its Centre Street restaurant is ending and given the tough sales environment it will not be renewing.
 
The Panera on Highland Ave. in Needham is staying open.
 
Wellesley frees up parking
 
Wellesley is offering free parking at all bagged two-hour meters in town until Jan. 1. To keep traffic moving and allow for frequent parking turnover, the two-hour parking limit at bagged meters will be strictly enforced by Wellesley parking attendants, according to Wellesley Patch.
 
After two hours, cars have to leave the street entirely, or be ticketed. Drivers may not move to other free parking spaces on the street for another two hours. This will also result in a ticket as parking attendants are monitoring cars.
 
Help a kid, help a retailer
 
Finally, this weekend is the deadline to help provide a toy to a child in need through Newton’s annual toy drive, coordinated by the city, the Newton Rotary and The Village Bank.
 
More than 250 local families are in need this year.
 
New unwrapped toys are being collected at drop-off locations throughout the city (including our partners at Henry Bear's Park and Just Next Door) and at all Village Bank branches.
 
You can also make a cash donation here.
 
Our Young Professionals Committee will use all money collected by Dec. 13 to purchase toys from local merchants, so your contributions will help both a local kid and a local independent retailer.
 
That's it for today. Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
 
P.S. Congratulations to Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson who has been appointed dean at Worcester Polytechnic's Robert A. Foisie Business Schoo l. Jackson is a Newton resident and a member of Newton’s Economic Development Commission.

 

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