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State extends mask order until Dec. 11; lifts restrictions on restaurants, small businesses

On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey and Sate Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris extended the state’s mask order until December 11.

In extending the mask order, the governor said she did so realizing that “sooner later it’s going to be up to each of us to do the right thing.”

Ivey’s order also removed emergency occupancy rates from retailers, fitness centers and entertainment venues.

An exception to social-distancing rules will be allowed for many businesses, including barbershops, hair salons, gyms and restaurants, if patrons are wearing masks and separated by an “impermeable” barrier.

This means restaurants and many other businesses will be able to accommodate more people if partitions are in place.

While the governor’s order appears to be good news for restaurant owners, Geraldine Golden of Sisters Restaurant said she had not had a chance to look closely at the governor’s order or discuss it with “sister” Pat Rogers.

“With the restrictions of COVID-19 and serving from the menu rather than the buffet, — we don’t have as many tables as we used to but we are managing to serve our customers without a long wait time. We are also doing a lot of carry-outs. So, this is working for us. So, we shouldn’t have to look hard at doing anything different.”

Sisters Restaurant has been a popular place for “good ol’ country cooking” for approaching 25 years. For many of those years food has been served buffet style.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever go back 100 percent to buffet,” Golden said. “After this virus, I don’t know if people will feel comfortable going to a buffet. Our customers seem to like ordering from the menu. They get exactly what they want and they get their money’s worth.  Even with the pandemic, business has been good, actually, better than we thought it would be.”

Golden said the governor’s order will open things up but opening Sisters up to more people would require installing dividers, and that could be costly.

“What we are doing now is working for us and our customers,” she said. “I don’t see us making a big change, not right now.”

Yanni Tempelis, Pig Café and Francesca’s owner, said to install, as the governor said, “impermeable” barriers would be expensive, therefore, he has not given much thought to the opportunity.

Tempelis said the governor’s ‘limited capacity” order has also limited the available amount of income.

“Fifty percent occupancy means 50 percent reduction is sales and income,” he said.

“But, we have made changes in the way we are serving our customers and we are making it work. To install barriers?  I expect that we will choose to stay doing just as we are during the holidays which is always a busy time for restaurants,” Tempelis said. “Hopes are that this year, will be a buy one, too.  Because of the pandemic, we expect to do many more take-outs this holiday season. That will be a big help.”

Tempelis said, because Francesca’s is more of a private dining restaurant, it is easier to adjust to the governor’s “Safer at Home” orders.

“We have the space to move the tables to accommodate our guests,” he said.

Gov. Ivey’s updated guidelines call from “commonsense” safety measures, said Troy Fire Chief Michael Stephens.

In a Thursday press release, Stephens said, understanding, that COVID-19 has placed a large burden on business to remain open and profitable, this is no time to ignore life safety by locking or blocking exits to businesses, without the appropriate Exit door hardware installed.

Stephens said it is also strongly recommended for business owners to contact the Troy Fire Department’s fire marshal’s office when and if considering constructing impermeable barrier partitions.

For questions or concerns, contact the Troy Fire Marshal’s office at 334-566-5943.