MORRISTOWN – Mayor Tim Dougherty wanted to close South Street, the main drag of this historic town, to traffic to facilitate outdoor dining.
But the state said no and the mayor has to live with it.
And today, he was living with it fairly well.
We were walking along the not-closed South Street to check out the lunch crowd on this, the first day of outdoor dining. This is a big deal in Morristown, which is very much an eating and drinking hub.
Dougherty said he was feeling great; never mind the fact his hair was quite shaggy – barber shops are closed, you know.
At a restaurant near Pine Street, appropriately called South and Pine, owner Leia Gaccione called the last three months of the pandemic-related closing “pretty devastating.” But now she was upbeat.
As Gaccione chatted with Dougherty, she said she already had 100 reservations for Monday night.
The mayor was looking to close South Street from the Morristown Green to Elm Street, which is about five blocks.
“It was a blanket denial,” by the state, he said, suggesting the policy is not closing a state road, and pandemic or not, that wasn’t going to change.
“I can’t fight the state,” said a practical minded mayor. “I need DOT for a lot of things in Morristown.”
So, restauarnts and others are making room for tables as they go along.
A small Morris County-owned park, or really just some open green space, is along Washington Street near the county courthouse. The county freeholders are allowing nearby restaurants, including the Sushi Lounge and the Grand Cafe, a fine dining establishment, to set up tables on the grass.
Desmond Lloyd, the owner of the Grand Cafe, says that is simply great news. Both he and Andrew Gering of the Sushi Lounge praised the county for helping their cause.
The Grand Cafe long has been the scene of political gatherings of one type or another and Lloyd said he hopes that will resume – on the ouside lawn.
Now that phase two of the state’s reopening is upon us, a pertinent question is whether people feel comfortable venturing out. Gering is confident they are, noting that over the last few days, he’s done a
good take-out business.
Still, this is not a panacea. Many restaurants in Morristown and elsewhere lack the space for large-scale outdoor dining. Sidewalks are only so wide. Some restaurants have backyards or parking lots to put tables, but others do not.
The weather can be an obvious problem. A sudden thunderstorm certainly can ruin your dessert. And keep in mind that ambiance may need to be sacrificed a bit. One restaurant’s outdoor tables face a drab, brick wall.
But after three months of not going out to eat, many wanted to look on the bright side. That included Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, who lunched today on a table on the sidewalk of Bareburger on South Street.
Back at the Grand Cafe, one of the first customers for the start of outdoor dining today was John Sette, the onetime chair of the county’s Republican Committee.
“It’s like opening day of the baseball season,” Sette said.
Not quite. But you have to admire his enthusiasm.