Main Street in downtown Patchogue was turned into a giant open-air dining room on Sunday afternoon as officials tried to give a boost to beleaguered restaurants that lost business to the coronavirus pandemic.
Village officials agreed to close a two-block section of the road, from West Avenue to Maple Avenue, for about eight hours each Sunday through Labor Day weekend as the business district seeks to recoup its losses after being limited to takeout and deliveries since March.
Mayor Paul Pontieri said in an interview the arrangement was an experiment to see whether it would help the business district recover without running afoul of state social distancing regulations.
“We’ll evaluate it from Sunday to Sunday," Pontieri said. "If it works, we’ll continue to do it .”
Pontieri estimated the street could hold about 500 diners, depending on how tables and chairs are spaced apart. The street was closed from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with dining hours set between noon and 7 p.m.
David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, had requested the move after village businesses expressed fears they might close if they couldn't welcome diners. Most restaurants in the village don't have enough space to offer outdoor eating on patios or sidewalks.
“I would think, at least through the summer season, [closing Main Street] would be very helpful to these restaurants,” Kennedy said at a June 22 village board meeting.
More than two dozen restaurants were set to take part on Sunday, working under strict restrictions imposed by the village board. Meals were served by reservation only, and diners were required to wear masks when they left their tables.
Officials in Patchogue — where the Dublin Deck tiki bar on River Avenue was cited for state liquor violations after a large crowd gathered there one night last month — said they would be careful to limit visitors and make sure restaurants adhere to social distancing rules. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said earlier this month bars and restaurants violating those rules would face possible shutdowns.
Pontieri said village officials met with state liquor authority officials last week to discuss measures to prevent violations.
“All you have to do really is listen to Cuomo lately," Pontieri said. "I think he’s starting to drop the hammer on some places. Unfortunately, we’ve been under the light, the shining light, and I would hate to see us be the one they’re coming after.”
At the village's request, Kennedy said he would consider suspending takeout service during Sunday afternoons to try to prevent bar patrons from lingering and creating a de facto open-air bar.
“We can’t have people getting a takeout drink and then just hanging out in the street drinking,” village Trustee Lori Devlin said during the June 22 meeting. “Somehow there’s gotta be a control on the takeout drinking."