WESTERLY — Business owners say they are looking forward to a bustling summer season that recalls those of the days before COVID-19, mandatory face masks and plexiglass at bars.
"I'm looking forward to a return to normalcy — I expect it to be a busy summer. I think there's a lot of pent-up demand for people. They want to go out for lunch or dinner and go to the beach. I think there's a sense of relief, said Tim Brennan, one of the owners of Two Little Fish on Atlantic Avenue in Misquamicut.
Last summer, Two Little Fish opened for limited indoor dining in compliance with capacity restrictions issued at the time by the state to slow the spread of the virus, but eventually switched to take-out only after staff endured verbal jabs from several impatient customers. This year, the popular restaurant, which emphasizes sustainability, has been open for indoor dining since Mother's Day.
"We've been very busy so far," Brennan said.
The restaurant is following guidelines promulgated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health and doing what it can to educate customers, Brennan said.
"Some people come in and are a little hesitant with 'Do I have to wear a mask or do I not have to?' Right now, you can if you want, but you don't have to," Brennan said.
While he is aware that some Misquamicut businesses are struggling to find employees, Brennan said Two Little Fish has not encountered that challenge as it relies on family members and their friends and a core of long-time employees including two who have been there for 20 years.
The lifting of restrictions means establishments can return to full indoor capacity and resume activities that had to be eliminated or curtailed last summer.
"I'm looking forward to music being back in the businesses — that's a big thing," said Caswell Cooke Jr., executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association.
A new mobile pizza business — Rhode Island Pizza Co. — and a change in ownership at Dusty's Ice Cream of Weekapaug that has seen the addition of baked goods to the shop are two new Misquamicut attractions, Cooke said.
The MBA also recently received a grant from Berkshire Hathaway Home Services and the South County Tourism Council to buy a new cart for its Misquamicut clean-up and beautification work.
"Our road crew is out there painting curbs, picking up trash, and tending to traffic islands," Cooke said.
The MBA will offer a slate of activities, including movies at least four times per week at the Misquamicut Drive-In, concerts featuring Billy Gilman in June and the Lords of 52nd Street, Billy Joel's original band, in August, and a couple of classic car shows. The drive-in has also proven to be an attractive venue for local schools, which have had and are having a host of upcoming events there, Cooke said.
While the summer of 2020 was like few others, Cooke said the Misquamicut business community stayed intact.
"Every single business in Misquamicut is coming back, so COVID did not put anyone out of business permanently. That's something, I think, everybody should be proud of," Cooke said.