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A Quiet Reopening Day In Downtown West Palm Beach, As The County's 'New Normal' Begins

Wilkine Brutus
Empty tables and chairs. Empty streets. Empty alleys. After the COVID-19 shutdown, Palm Beach County restaurants reopened as part of Florida's Phase One plan. Rosemary Square, formerly City Place, in Downtown West Palm Beach, had a silent reopening day as the county's 'New Normal' began. May 12, 2020

Dine-in service was still quiet. The sound of drills, grass blowers, passing cars and birds chirping have replaced human chatter and laughter.

Restaurants, sidewalks, and streets remained largely empty Monday. Road closures and construction detour signs block most of the west and east ends of the historic Clematis Street.

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After the COVID-19 shutdown, Palm Beach County restaurants reopened as part of Florida's Phase One plan, despite active coronavirus cases. The goal: to operate their struggling businesses at 25 percent capacity and keep indoor and outdoor seating at six feet apart.

From morning to midday, there was barely any foot traffic. Rocco's Tacos staff were seen outside measuring the distance between empty tables. Next door, just a few women and men were ordering Starbucks from the curbside pickup window. On South Olive Avenue, a small group of customers left Makeb's Bagels and Deli; one man stayed inside, eating alone near a window.

Rosemary Square, the dense shopping centre formerly known as City Place? Empty.

And what about the Grandview Public Market, the popular food hall and go-to entertainment spot in the Warehouse District? Empty.

Credit Wilkine Brutus
Grandview Public Market on reopening day in West Palm Beach. May 12, 2020.

Ricky Perez's experience at Grandview encapsulated the first day of reopening. Perez, owner of Zipitios — the popular taco destination at Grandview — says disrupted supply chains and reduced labor made it difficult for restaurants to accomplish a quick, re-opening day turnaround. The main issues? Safety and cost.

Perez is a small business owner with a small staff. And he says maintaining a 25 percent capacity comes with some challenges. “Other difficulties we face are having to deal with this reopening situation and safety. You want to keep your staff as safe as possible,” Perez said.

“We operate inside a food hall so conducting the flow of 25 percent capacity will be a challenge. People are edgy at the moment and some can not grasp the measures we must take to keep safe, which has resulted in some nasty complaints.”

And costs have also been a major hurdle.

“The price of beef has skyrocketed due to the shortages caused by plants shutting down because of COVID outbreaks at their processing plants,” Perez said. “The price has increased by two. Profit margins have been slashed.”

Monday was the first day of the new normal in Palm Beach. Perez says Grandview won’t fully open until Wednesday and he, “hopes the pace can pick up soon.”

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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