Bay State Restaurants Near Rhode Island, New Hampshire Worried About Continued Shutdown

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If you live in Massachusetts, there is a chance you live near a restaurant that is open for dine-in eating. However, you would need to cross an imaginary line to get there.

On Monday, May 18, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced Phase One of the state’s plan to re-open the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants were not included on that list. They are featured in Phase Two of the plan, and it is unclear when that will begin.

If Bay Staters travel to New Hampshire or Rhode Island, however, they can eat at a restaurant instead of getting takeout from one. Both states began allowing dine-in customers at restaurants as long as the diners are outdoors.

With those restaurants open, some Massachusetts restaurants that operate near a state line are unhappy with the governor’s decision. Some say it puts their businesses in an even worse spot than they were a week ago.

One of those restaurant owners is Dave Bardsley. He owns the Boiler Bar & Grille in Orange, Massachusetts. It’s one town south of the state border with southwestern New Hampshire.

“As you can imagine the impact is large in our industries,” Bardsley told New Boston Post in an email message. “We have been running takeout service but we have noticed a drastic fall off with our bordering states opening up and allowing dining.”

Now patrons have a choice, and some prefer eating out, which they can now do a few miles up the road with friends and family.

“Now that they have options most will travel over the line now to enjoy the dining experience,” he said. “Dining out is all about the experience. The cold drinks, the atmosphere, and the delicious food. We all know takeout is never the same experience. The state is definitely crippling our privately owned restaurants.

“Takeout service is a break even business at best,” he added. “I only do it for two reasons:  the community and the employees. We currently have only three people laid off (mostly servers) the rest of the staff is working at reduced hours. The worst part is the ones that are laid off are making more money then the ones that are working right now.”

Some out-of-work employees are making more money in unemployment payments than they would by returning to work.

Bardsley noted that his restaurant is in Franklin County, which has among the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Massachusetts. He said his and other restaurants are prepared to put the recommended social distancing measures in place to prevent the virus from spreading.

Al Castiglioni is experiencing both sides of the comparative advantage. He owns Chardonnay’s Restaurant in Seekonk, Massachusetts, which, like other restaurants in the state is takeout-only; and 579 Benefit Street Restaurant in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which opened for outdoor-dining last week.

The two establishments are about six miles apart and each within about a mile from the Massachusetts-Rhode Island state line.

“It puts Massachusetts restaurants at a huge disadvantage,” Castiglioni told New Boston Post in a telephone interview this past week. “We’re not closed because of something we did. We’re closed because the governor closed us down. We can’t have outdoor dining and then we’re hit on both ends — north and south.”

Even before Rhode Island’s restaurants began to open on Monday, May 18, he said Bay State restaurants were already at a disadvantage. That’s because Rhode Island restaurants allowed takeout cocktails in addition to beer and wine, something that is not allowed in Massachusetts.

Castiglioni said that on Friday, May 15, for example, he did about $800 in alcohol sales at 579 Benefit Street in Pawtucket, mostly driven by cocktail orders. Conversely, Chardonnay’s in Seekonk did about $50 worth of beer and wine sales that same day.

“It’s one way of making revenue,” he said of cocktail sales. “People have beer and wine at home, or maybe one of the basic martinis. That’s definitely having an impact on me. To not have $800 in alcohol sales because we’re half a mile over the line, that hurts.”

Charlie Fellows has seen the impact as well. He is the general manager of Lagrange Hospitality, which operates several restaurants on the South Coast of  Massachusetts, including Westport restaurants like Ten Cousins Brick Oven, The Galley at White’s, and Bittersweet Farm Restaurant & Tavern, as well as Merrill’s on the Waterfront in New Bedford.

“It’s been very difficult,” he told New Boston Post in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We’ve had to find ways to get creative with marketing to try to keep business up. Fortunately, Ten Cousins is mostly a pizza restaurant, so that’s worked well for takeout.”

“We just wish we had more definitive answers here,” he added. “It’s still a very gray area for what the governor will let us do and when. We figured we were gonna be able to have outdoor dining by now like Rhode Island and we were getting cued up and ready for it in case that announcement came.”

Fellows said that he respects that the governor wants to keep people safe, but also said that restaurants strive to do the same and that the one he runs  have enough space to do that if they were allowed to open.

He added, “Whatever he has planned, we’ll be ready for it.”

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Restaurants Association could not be reached for comment.