The Outer Banks will be open to visitors starting May 16 and businesses are eager for the return of our annual guests.
But in the age of COVID-19 things won’t be the same as before—there is a ‘new normal’ for the time being and that requires new approaches for our businesses and visitors as everyone does their best to stay safe while working and relaxing on the Outer Banks
We asked four local businesses to tell our readers how they are preparing for the re-opening and what changes to expect when visiting their establishments.
Every business will approach the situation differently but we expect most will implement similar procedures to the companies we called upon for this article.
Village Realty—Unlike other resort areas we aren’t a hotel/condo destination. The vast majority of our visitors will be staying in vacation rental homes.
Bob Oakes, President of Village Realty and Management noted that the Outer Banks large percentage of rental homes makes the area more attractive in an era of social distancing. Unlike condos or hotels, families can spend significant time in these homes—sheltered from crowded spaces, common areas and denser concentration of guests.
In a rental home, visitors are able to eat, socialize, hang out and enjoy a short walk to the beach in most cases without mixing with strangers. Many homes feature modern entertainment amenities, including private pools, that further allow visitors to enjoy their vacation in relative isolation while many attractions and indoor dining remain closed even as we’ve opened the region to vacationers.
The company has also published an article on their website outlining cleaning procedures that will be implemented before guests arrive. As noted in their article “For years, we’ve used cleaning and disinfecting products that meet or exceed performance specifications outlined by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.”
In light of COVID-19 they’ve expanded their normal cleaning routine to include extra emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting ‘touch points’ in a home, stating ‘No surface that someone would touch is going uncleaned and undisinfected. All bed linen and laundry will continue to be washed with our commercial partner at high temperatures in accordance with CDC guidelines,” the website notes.
As summer approaches Village is investigating new disinfecting technologies including long-acting virus guard applications.
And to recognize our front line heroes, Village wants you to nominate family or friends that are essential workers, first responders, volunteers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, delivery drivers—anyone you deem a hero and one luck recipient will receive a free vacation.
You can find more details on all of the above at Village Realty’s website.
Inside dining is not yet permitted in North Carolina and the rules for outdoor dining haven’t been made clear either. So, for now, visitors will be limited to ordering takeout or delivery.
The good news is more restaurants are opening every day to provide these services even if they haven’t offered such services, especially delivery, in the past.
But there is an expectation that outdoor dining and hopefully, soon enough—limited indoor dining will be available shortly.
Gus Zinovis and Shannon Moody operate two iconic restaurants—the Snowbird Drive-In and Mulligan’s Grille in Nags Head. For the Snowbird it's business as usual with the exception of practicing social distancing when at the order and pick up windows.
At Mulligan’s it’s takeout only for now but the restaurant is ready for the return of indoor dining, which they expect to be allowed on a 50% capacity basis.
Shannon Moody told us “I’ve had 57 days to think about this and yes, we’re ready!”
“Because of health regulations and the fact restaurants can’t survive if we aren’t clean and hyginic--we’ve always been doing what many businesses are now being asked to do for the first time,” she noted.
But they are going the extra mile-- starting with employees.
Each day employees will have their temperatures taken with a forehead thermometer and will have to answer a series of five questions regarding where they’ve been (including out of state travel) and who they’ve had contact with before being allowed to work. They will then visit a hand sanitizing station before they do any work.
Servers have their own individual tablet devices that no one else touches, so orders and bills are submitted without their having to touch communal keypads that other servers have accessed.
For patrons outdoor heating units have been installed so dining on their decks can continue in almost any kind of weather once that option is allowed.
The hostess will escort parties to their tables and maintain social distancing.
Paper menus and disposable utensils will be the order of the day so nothing you touch will have been touched by other customers. Servers will be wearing masks when orders are delivered, and all patrons will be given sanitizing wipes at the end of the meal.
Even condiments will be taken off the table after patrons leave and cleaned before brought back to the next group seated.
Social distancing within the restaurant will be maintained at all times including the areas around restrooms.
Even the bars will be devoid of barstools to ensure social distancing is enforced.
Check out their website and all of your other favorite restaurant’s sites and Facebook pages (as well as new ones that have opened since last year) to see what your options are and when indoor dining returns in some form.
The big box stores remained opened during the crisis and not much has changed there. And while some businesses must remain closed (hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, bars, movie theaters and many outdoor amusement parks) most smaller retail operations can now re-open.
We visited Seaside Art Gallery where COVID-19 has already impacted one of their biggest annual exhibits—the 29th Miniature Art Show which opened May 2 and runs until May 30.
The store has been using their website to display and sell the entries online with owner Melanie Smith using technology with a series of videos to describe the show, the artists and pieces in this year’s exhibit.
But they are ready to open and Smith explained their approach.
“For now staff will be wearing masks and patrons are encouraged to do so. We have masks and sanitizers on a table as you enter if you don’t have your own,” she says.
The gallery itself is sprawling and even the area for the show is large enough for patrons to observe social distancing.
“I don’t expect much policing will be necessary. People are smart enough to not crowd and the gallery is so big I expect social distancing to not be a problem. Unlike big stores we’re seldom crowded so I think patrons can view the show and the rest of the gallery and stay within the suggested guidelines,” Smith concluded.
One casualty of the COVID restrictions will be the usual reception and awards ceremony that takes place near the end of the show. Smith doesn’t expect the rules on capacity and social distancing will be waived before the end of the show.
Gail Kowalski’s custom, designer pieces are internationally acclaimed. But COVID-19 shut down their store for the spring season and they won’t be re-opening until May 14.
Located in the same Gallery Row district of Nags Head as Seaside, JBG offers a different scenario. Like Seaside they have an online presence and have been able to keep their wares before the public.
While closed Kowalski said her attitude of ‘making lemonade out of lemons’ allowed them to use the downtime for some needed improvements.
When patrons return a new sign destroyed in a hurricane will adorn the exterior. Inside—a freshly painted store with new display cases will greet customers.
Kowalski said there will be hand sanitizer throughout the store and employees will wear masks. While it will be impossible to keep six-feet distancing when shoppers inspect jewelry customers can use the sanitizer and staff can clean any handled jewelry before returning it to the display case.
‘We’re not usually crowded such that customers can’t maintain social distancing so we don’t think we will have any issues there,” Kowalski added.
A big part of their business is jewelry repair, cleaning and appraisal.
In order to protect employees and clients Kowalski says they’ve implemented technology where almost all of this work can be done without employees handling the pieces—another procedure she was able to implement in the down period.
Keep up with JBG on their website starting May 14!