Farmingdale’s once bustling downtown will become an outdoor dining room when restaurants reopen under a plan developed by village officials for a post-lockdown future.
The village has drawn up plans to close traffic on Main Street and set up 424 seats on Friday and Saturday evenings when restaurants are allowed to reopen. That lets bars and restaurants with wait service have between 10 and 18 seats on the street in addition to their indoor seating.
While the state has yet to release its guidelines for restaurants to reopen, owners and officials expect those rules to restrict the number of diners permitted to eat indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We're trying to devise a plan which would be beneficial to the restaurants and merchants and not have massive overcrowding,” Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said. He said restaurant owners tell him that even with deliveries and takeout service their business has been down more than 80% during the past two months of the pandemic.
“They’re dying for business,” Ekstrand said. “They can’t pay their bills.”
The plan would require diners to make reservations and could replace some of the business lost at village street fairs that are likely to be canceled this summer, Ekstrand said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to reopen the state’s regions establishes four phases for different categories. Restaurants are in phase three. To maintain social distancing of 6 feet between tables, the restaurant industry is bracing for rules that could limit capacity to 25%.
Joseph Fortuna, owner of two Main Street restaurants, 317 Main Street and The Nutty Irishman, said with restaurants not expected to open until June or July the summer season is nearly lost.
“Then when you open it's going to be at 25 percent?” Fortuna said. “How long is that going to last before they go to 50 percent? How are restaurants going to recover from this?”
Fortuna said his restaurants could get back up to 40% of regular business with the combination of street seating, takeout and delivery, and reopening at 25% capacity. That might be enough for restaurants to survive long enough until business gets back to normal, he said.
“Having the outdoor seating is going to help,” Fortuna said. “It's not going to replace what we’ve lost.”
Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive of the New York Restaurant Association, a trade group, said restaurants typically have a profit margin of 3% to 5%. Reopening at 25% capacity won’t give restaurants the ability to break even, she said.
“They'll be losing money at that rate,” Fleischut said. Fleischut said communities across the state are looking at ways to gain seats outdoors with the expectation that social distancing rules will be in place.
“Being allowed to expand capacity into additional areas is huge for them,” she said.
Joseph Garcia, president of the Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce, said the extra capacity of street seating could make the difference for survival for restaurants.
“It’s just one way of many to try to help some of the small businesses that have been irreparably harmed by effects of COVID-19,” Garcia said.
Farmingdale street seating plan
- Main Street from South Front to Conklin streets and from Conklin to Prospect streets would be closed from 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
- Plan will add 10 to 18 additional seats for bars and restaurants in addition to their indoor capacity
- Begins with phase three of state reopening through Labor Day