Sununu allows restaurants to reopen with restrictions

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday announced several changes to begin reopening New Hampshire's economy. Among them is a plan to allow restaurants to offer outdoor seating. Our Adam Sullivan has details.

Beginning May 18, restaurants in New Hampshire can once again serve patrons outdoors as long as the seating is at least 6 feet apart. That comes as welcome news for business owners who have been hit hard by the shutdown.

There's an almost eerie silence outside the 4 Aces Diner in West Lebanon.

"Like on a Sunday, no one around us is open. We are packed. We were packed, past tense," said Leann Briggs of the 4 Aces Diner.

The business has been closed since mid-March. Ninety-eighty percent of the patrons eat in, so takeout was not a cost-effective option. As the booths remain empty, 14 employees are out of work.

"We have certain bills whether we are open or not. We have electricity, you know, you got bills that just keep coming," Briggs said.

But in stressful times, there are new bright spots. The governor announced Friday that restaurants can offer outdoor seating 6 feet apart beginning May 18.

"We think it's a safe and smart first step to allow a few more facilities to open," said Sununu, R-New Hampshire.

You can see Vermont from the outdoor patio at 4 Aces. Owners of the diner are beginning to offer takeout May 8 and say the outdoor seating that will soon follow is a great step forward.

"A lot of it is going to depend on people and how they feel about coming out in public because it has been such a don't go out, don't go out," Briggs said.

There are a dozen restaurants in West Lebanon alone.

"I think it is fantastic," said Janelle Snarsky of Grantham. "I think you need to get some people back to work."

Snarsky says she has been making an effort to support local businesses during the shutdown.

"It has to be done carefully, it has to be done methodically, but it has to be done," she said.

Indoor dining will remain closed for the time being.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster, who is working on a "Roadmap to Recovery" at the federal level, says she supports New Hampshire's cautious approach to reopening.

"We don't want to flood the zone with all kinds of big groups of people and risk a spike, that would set us back," said Kuster, D-New Hampshire.

Retail can open May 11 at 50% capacity. Barbers and hair salons may open in accordance with strict guidelines. Also, golf courses can open for New Hampshire residents and campgrounds on May 11.