Here’s some news that’s probably much needed: Patchogue Village officials and local business leaders are looking to open up the downtown for outdoor dining this summer. 

David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, said the restaurant committee has been talking with Mayor Paul Pontieri and other authorities about opening the sidewalks in front of Main Street area restaurants to offer street space for outdoor dining. 

Due to the recent extension of the stay-at-home order by Governor Andrew Cuomo and restaurants not being able to reopen until Phase 3 of the process, the approximate time the outdoor seating would begin around late June, early July. 

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David Kennedy/Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo

“The date would be that first Saturday after they let us know that restaurants can offer dine-in services,” Kennedy said. “We are ready to launch immediately once the governor gives us the go-ahead.”

Kennedy said the idea was inspired by the multiple summer events, like Alive After Five, being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Village officials figured that since they were going to close Main Street for these events anyway, they should set the scene for outdoor dining.

Nothing is set in stone, but Kennedy said the idea has now evolved to possibly happen every Saturday during the summer

The town would close Main Street as they do for Alive After Five and keep the north and south streets of the village open. 

“All of Main Street would become table service for the restaurants,” Kennedy said. “Every Saturday, at least through the summer — maybe even beyond depending on how long our restaurants need the extra business.” 

Kennedy said the details are being worked out, but it all depends on certain New York State guidelines and the phases of gradually reopening Long Island.

Outdoor seating for restaurants, he said, has been a “prime topic of discussion” for about three weeks now.

“Certainly we are team-players here in Patchogue,” Kennedy said. “We appreciate our leaders and the leadership coming down from the state, and we are going to follow those guidelines, obviously, of what is allowable and what is not allowable.”

Tents being set up behind restaurants, as well as different concepts to promote social distancing and controlling crowds are also being considered. 

Kennedy said he also sees the village incorporating downtown retailers into the outdoor initiative by allowing those businesses to put out tables on the sidewalk.

“We’re really excited about it; we feel like we’re getting closer, that we’re only a few weeks away where all these plans will come to fruition and we can start reopening out downtown,” he said.

Pontieri said his chief concern with the plans is the outdoor dining event drawing large crowds, as if it were an Alive After Five event. 

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Mayor Paul Pontieri/Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo

“People think they can just come into town and wait,” Pontieri. “I mentioned to David possibly doing reservations to limit the crowd that you have.”

Pontieri said the ability to open up an outdoor space and expand the restaurants’ dining areas is crucial for their survival. He said he thinks most of the restaurant owners are excited and know the controls they are going to have to implement.

The mayor said he spoke to Peter Sarich, the village’s senior building inspector, about how his department would work with restaurants to come up with a plan that aligns with the state’s requirements.

This includes capacity, how the interior of a restaurant will be set up, and the occupancy if they were to use the street space.

Pontieri stressed the need for restaurants to be prepared. 

“It’s important for the restaurants to begin now to think about how they are going to lay out their restaurants.” 

Restaurant response 

Several restaurant owners spoke positively about the outdoor dining plan — and how it could help their businesses during the pandemic. 

James Bonanno, a co-owner of The Tap Room, said like many restaurants that are currently struggling, the prospect of outdoor dining is very much welcomed and would help keep eateries open. 

“It’s great news. To be able to expand our footprint is instrumental for restaurants to survive during this crisis,” he said. “Being restricted to 25 or 50 percent of your occupancy is not really possible to create a profit, so having the ability to have extra seats would be instrumental for us to try to keep the lights on.” 

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Bonanno said The Tap Room will continue to follow any new mandates that come with the reopening, like keeping tables and customers safely apart, making sure the staff is wearing masks, and keeping service strictly single-use. 

Eric Rifkin, owner of Bobbique and member of the chamber’s restaurant committee, said it would be a gradual process, but the outdoor dining he thinks will bring Main Street and the community back.

To him, it’s a “win-win” for restaurants and customers who are sorely in need of enjoying the warm weather coming our way. 

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Eric Rifkin/Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo

“Obviously our hands will be tied when they release what we can do and we’ll have to start slowly when it comes to our occupancy,” he said. “Moving forward, it’s gonna be like a plaza in Europe, where people are dining in the streets all over the place — of course, a distance apart.” 

Rifkin, who will be celebrating Bobbique’s 14th anniversary next month, said this is not the first time Patchogue has shown support for its restaurants. The businesses, he said, have created a great bond — especially in the last couple of months.

“We do this on a regular basis, we try to be forward-thinking, try to implement ideas through our great leadership,” Rifkin said. “It’s an incredible community.” 

Scott Campbell, a co-owner of PeraBell Food Bar, said the outdoor dining would help out his restaurant immensely.

He said he feels bad for those in entertainment, like local bands, taking a hit due to COVID-related event cancellations. However, he commends the community for coming together during this crisis and the village creating events to keep spirits up.

“During a pandemic, you really see who steps up,” Campbell said. “That’s the beauty of Patchogue. I’m just glad I’m apart of it.”

John Sarno, an owner in Drift 82 and the Village Idiot Pub, said about a week and a half ago, Drift 82 reopened with new plans on how the restaurant will operate. 

Those plans included the implementation of signs, hand sanitizer stations inside and outside of the building, rules for bathroom use, enforcing a six feet distance between customers, and so on. 

They also opened a newly designed outdoor area where each table and chairs are located six to eight feet apart. 

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“I think we’re all bursting at the seams to get out of our houses and out of lockdown,” Sarno said. “People want to be able to walk around and take in the little things in life we took advantage of before all this.” 

He said the entire Patchogue community is in this together and hopefully what the village continues to plan will bring back some normalcy. 

“People always want to see what Patchogue is doing,” Sarno said. “Some people are still afraid, you don’t want to downplay it, but we also want to get to some type of normalcy.

“You can’t be afraid to live.”