By MADDY VITALE
Mike’s Seafood owner Mike Monichetti watched as his crew of cooks diced, sautéed and chopped what would soon be dinners for the line of customers coming in to pick up their meals at the landmark eatery in Sea Isle City’s Fish Alley. Other customers waited in their cars for curbside delivery.
On what is traditionally the beginning of the summer season, Memorial Day weekend is a jump-start to the tourism industry at the Jersey Shore.
But with COVID-19 restrictions in place by the executive order of Gov. Phil Murphy since March, small businesses in Sea Isle have been feeling the pinch of the closures and are hoping for a complete reopening in the near future.
While the governor recently eased some rules, some merchants acknowledged that sales at the beginning of the summer of 2020 have been as chilly as the temperatures on Sunday.
Retail merchants who normally rely on customers breezing into the stores to buy their goods are relying on online orders instead.
Restaurants are not allowed to have indoor dining, although outdoor dining may be permitted soon. In the meantime, restaurants are allowed to offer takeout orders, curbside pickup and deliveries.
It is an unusual start to the summer for Monichetti and other business owners who are dealing with this unprecedented time.
For Monichetti, takeout business at his Park Road restaurant in the historic Fish Alley neighborhood has been good, but he misses the dining in of his longtime customers.
He noted that people have been enjoying their holiday weekend in the resort town, grabbing Mike’s Seafood and shopping at other businesses.
“It shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Monichetti said. “There are people shopping again.”
He stressed that customers are doing their best at social distancing and wearing masks when walking into his restaurant. If a customer didn’t have a mask, Mike’s Seafood had ones to give out. Employees at Mike’s Seafood are also wearing masks.
“Almost everyone who came into Mike’s had masks on and practiced social distancing,” Monichetti said. “I just want to tell the tourists and the business community that I am very optimistic about the summer of 2020.”
Gennaro Cellucci, of Philadelphia, and his girlfriend, Minerva Pinto, wore face masks as they walked down Landis Avenue and did some shopping.
With their hands filled with shopping bags, the couple noted that they were going back to Cellucci’s family vacation home in Sea Isle.
“We are doing as best as we can to social distance. We are pretty much quarantined while spending time with our family in Sea Isle for the weekend,” Cellucci said.
For Diamonds Liquor Store owner Chris Glancey, just as restaurants are open for curbside and takeout orders, his establishment at 4009 Landis Ave. has continued to stay open. Liquor stores are considered essential businesses under the governor’s order and are allowed to remain open during the pandemic.
While customers stayed six feet apart and it appeared busy at Diamonds Liquor on Sunday afternoon, Glancey said that he was actually doing about a fraction of the business that he would have done on a normal Memorial Day weekend.
“My advice to the governor would be to open things up. We need to get back to a semblance of a normal life,” he explained. “I think when you go around and see, people are practicing social distancing. They are wearing the masks. They are being very responsible.”
For Liz Essick, traditions have been lost for her faithful following of customers at Sunsations at 28 JFK Boulevard. It is an upscale clothing boutique she has owned for five years and worked in for 32 years prior.
“Fortunately, I do have a lot of customers, but to not be open for the first weekend of the summer is difficult,” Essick said in an interview while standing outside her business Sunday.
Her shop, as with other retail outlets that do not have a portion of their stores stocked with food or other essential items, is limited to curbside pickup and online orders at this time.
She is offering virtual shopping events every Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. on the Sunsations Facebook page to generate business.
And when the governor gives the go-ahead to reopen the inside of the retail stores, Essick said she will be ready.
Not only does she have no-touch hand sanitizers in three locations in her two-story clothing store, but she will provide masks for anyone who does not have them. She has already marked off the areas to keep six feet of separation between customers, she emphasized.
“Customers are family to me. I must have had 50 customers come by and peer in the window to wave at me,” Essick said. “For me, it is a real tradition at Sunsations when people come in for swimsuits on Memorial Day weekend. I hope that could happen next year.”