Back to business: Doors open to Dover customers during Phase 1

Santana Simms, left, and Nakeia White shop at Boscov’s in the Dover Mall on Monday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Traffic appeared to be running at a heavier pace than it has in months on U.S. 13 through Dover as Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, several retail stores and restaurants swung open their doors and people — some gambling, many shopping and eating and others wandering — just enjoyed a chance to get out of the house amid the coronavirus outbreak on Monday.

The first day of Phase 1 of Delaware’s economic reopening drew people back to the slot machines at Dover Downs Casino, dining rooms at restaurants and inside Boscov’s department store, as well as other types of businesses, such as shoe stores and florists.

Due to new rules in place for the state’s rolling reopening, the guests were allowed to enter businesses in smaller numbers (30% of capacity), with face coverings and social distancing rules in place to protect from any possible spread of COVID-19.

The new rules and regulations didn’t appear to stop many people from escaping the confines of their homes.

Mary Ryan, a 32-year employee of Boscov’s, was busy greeting guests at the front door, with complimentary face masks in hand, in her first day as the store manager of one of the Dover Mall’s anchor department stores. The mall itself has yet to announce its reopening plans.

“We’re so excited to be opening up the store,” Ms. Ryan said. “It feels like a breath of fresh air for the community, as you can see by the parking lot that we probably have 75, maybe 80 people, and they’re all looking forward to coming in and shopping and maybe just to get out of the house.

“We’re really excited and I think we did a lot of good things to make the customers feel safe.”

Boscov’s cashier Tina Pisano helps customers in the Dover Mall on Monday.

There were stickers on the floor to note social distancing and Plexiglass dividers at checkout stations, all serving as reminders of the changes that have taken place since the coronavirus pandemic hit Delaware in early March.

“There wasn’t any real big challenge to re-pening the store,” said Ms. Ryan. “I guess it’s just getting the Plexiglass up (at the checkouts) for the customers so they feel comfortable shopping. For (employees), it’s getting used to wearing a mask all day, but I see every customer is coming in with a mask, which is terrific.”

Antsy to get out and about

Santana Simms, of Camden, said she enjoys the experience a retail store has to offer over ordering things online. She and her friend Nakeia White were among the first customers inside Boscov’s when it opened at 11 Monday morning.

“It’s definitely exciting. I don’t like the whole process of returning things, so I like to make sure things fit and we’re shopping for summer things for our kids,” Ms. Simms said. “It’s just too much for me to shop online. It’s easier for me to shop in person, get what I need, and get out.”

Ms. White agreed and said it was great to be able to shop locally again.

“We have a large family and I hate the process of online shopping,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get. Boscov’s is my favorite store because they have great styles for kids’ clothes and it’s kind of like a one-stop shop.”

Boscov’s cashier Tina Pisano helps customers in the Dover Mall on Monday.

Ms. Simms and Ms. White did disagree on how far they are willing to take the risk of going out during Phase 1 of the reopening.

“I’m glad they’re opening things up slowly,” said Ms. Simms. “I’m still going to be very (cautious) … like restaurants, I will not be going into, but clothes are different. I don’t have time for that process, working full-time and returning clothes. But I am glad that we will be opening up at a Level 1. It feels safer.”

Ms. White said the past couple of months of isolation at home have put all the rules aside for her.

“I might go to a restaurant as long as I can keep my distance to support local businesses and just get out of the house,” she said. “We’ve been stuck in the house way too long … working, homeschooling and to still have to be in the house is difficult. Fresh air is great.”

Just south of the Dover Mall, there was a bevy of activity in the parking lots at Dover Downs as hundreds of people found their way inside the casino and took on the slot machines.

There were new rules in place there as well, as customers had to enter the facility one at a time before they had to stop, pull down their face mask and have their picture taken, before they were allowed to gamble.

Paul Juliano, vice president of operations for Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc., was more than happy to unlock the doors of the casino on Monday.

“It’s been a long time and we are really excited to be able to welcome our guests and employees back to the property,” Mr. Juliano said. “We have taken several steps with social distancing (at least 8 feet between customers) and working at a smaller capacity to protect both our guests and employees.

A shopper walks in Boscov’s at the Dover Mall on Monday.

“Everybody seems to understand there are different rules in place at this time and, so far, everyone seems to be accepting that.”

Nick Polcino Jr., vice president and general manager of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, said there was a lot of work that went on behind the scenes before the casino’s opening, such as sanitizing the machines, deep cleaning the facility and learning new ways to help keep people distanced from one another and to keep the gaming machines sanitized between players.

Restaurants’ new rules

Restaurants and taprooms were also permitted to open on Monday, but they were limited to 30 percent seating capacity and guests had to make reservations and wear face masks until they were served food and drink.

Armond Yousefkhanian, one of the owners of Simaron Pizza & Steak Shop at 415 W. Loockerman St. in Dover, said he has missed the camaraderie his regular customers always bring to the staff.

“We’ve been missing all of our customers and it’s going to be nice for them to be able to get a meal and hang out with us, especially a lot of our regulars, people who come in almost every day just to eat here,” Mr. Yousefkhanian said. “It’s been a little disappointing for them that we’ve had to tell them that you can’t (eat inside).

“We’re going to start it off slow and be at a lower capacity and people can sit inside and eat if they want to and we’ll see how it goes.”

Kelly McClain, manager of Tom’s Bullpen at The Shoppes at Hamlet in Dover, said the staff at the restaurant/taproom was busy moving tables around all day on Sunday to make sure they met regulations in preparation for Monday’s re-opening.

Todd, left, and Kevin Sauer have lunch at Mission BBQ in Dover on Monday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We can’t wait,” Ms. McClain said. “We’ve missed our regulars so much, and if it wasn’t for their loyal support, we wouldn’t be opening (Monday).”

Small steps towards normality took place on Monday, which is a necessary evil of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Dover’s Bruce Strother said.

“It’s the start of hopefully better things to come,” said Mr. Strother. “It’s been a long three months. It’s just more or less all about getting out of the house. I totally agree with (reopening) in small steps, just to make sure that this virus dies out to where we can come out without the mask and all the other stuff.

“It’s nice to feel like we’re finally moving in a more positive direction.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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