Baltimore plans to ease restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and allow expanded retail operations.
Starting Wednesday, businesses may request permission to create a temporary pickup and drop-off zones for customers and delivery drivers to acquire their purchases curbside. The zones, according to the city, will allow residents to safely obtain goods while limiting potential for exposure to the potentially fatal virus.
“We’ve been clear from the beginning of this state of emergency that keeping the public safe and healthy would be our top concern,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said. “After consulting with our health professionals, we believe that this first step of reopening can be done carefully and safely.”
Businesses, however, must share the zones. Valet parking, passenger loading and tuck loading zones can be converted to Temporary Retail Pick Up and Drop-Off Zones. Permits can be obtained via the city’s Parking Authority.
Young and Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa also said the city has created an Outdoor Seating Relief Program intended to help restaurants currently limited to carryout services return to serving seated diners.
The announcement comes roughly a week after city restaurants, particularly eateries in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood, publicly criticized the mayor for not allowing them to start serving customers outdoors.
Restaurants have been among the businesses who’ve experienced the steepest declines in business during the lockdown. The Maryland Restaurant Association estimated that nearly 45% of Maryland’s restaurants closed due to the pandemic and 25% are not expected to reopen. Industry losses in the state reached an estimated $1.4 billion in April and May alone.
“I don’t know what the restaurant community did to earn so much contempt from this administration in this moment of need. All we want to do is have the right to earn a living in this city, just like the squeegee boys (Young) doesn’t do anything about,” Sergio Vitale, co-owner and chef at Little Italy’s Aldo’s Restorante Italiano, said during an interview on radio station WBAL last week.
Eateries can start returning to serving seated customers once Gov. Larry Hogan lifts the prohibition against doing so as part of a second phase of the state plan to reopen.
“The Outdoor Seating Relief Program will help position local restaurants to be able to hit the ground running once Baltimore’s in a position to allow restaurants to offer seating options,” Young said.