It's officially the start of the first full weekend to operate under the newly eased COVID-19 restrictions. These are the loosest rules in over a year.
The new rules require that customers continue to practice social distancing, mask use, and hygiene practices. Now customers can resume bar seating and alcohol service without buying a meal, and they can linger in a bar with alcohol sales until 2am. The number of meals indoors has been increased from 50 percent to 75 percent.
The bars in Central Pa. Were open and ready for the first big weekend in more than 12 months. Due to the colder temperatures on Friday, many bars weren't exactly flooded with customers. Still, some customers eagerly arrived and expressed their enthusiasm for the relaxed restrictions.
Laura Hostler of Elizabethtown was enjoying a meal with some of her staff at Dockside Willies in Wormleysburg. She said when she heard the news of the bar restrictions being lifted, she immediately called her friend to enjoy some of her favorite bars and restaurants this weekend.
"It feels great to get a sense of normalcy again," says Hostler. "To be able to just sit at the bar and just chat with people and after work and drink and what not … it's fun … I enjoy it!"
Brandon Tomeo of Camp Hill, PA decided to have a drink with a friend at the Bourbon Street Saloon. Tomeo says he was looking forward to coming back out and making memories with friends. He said being able to stay outside longer will give him time to soak up the atmosphere.
"Every time I came out before that and they closed at 11 p.m. it just felt rushed and now it just feels like you can just relax and unwind," says Tomeo. "It kind of feels normal again."
Jenifer Carlson, general manager of Dockside Willies, said customers are excited about the opportunity to sit in bars again.
Carlson noted that bartenders had a particularly difficult time during the pandemic and were unable to consistently serve customers.
"We're just glad the bars have reopened. It was difficult for our bartenders," says Carlson. "They had to completely change their jobs every day, and every time the restrictions change, everyone's work has changed."
Carlson is grateful for the support they have received from customers in keeping them afloat during this difficult time.
While many customers are excited, business owners still want to remind customers that there are still pandemic guidelines that must be followed.
Ron Kamionka, owner of Bourbon Street Saloon in downtown Harrisburg, said although restrictions have been lifted, he wants to make sure customers stay safe and responsible when visiting bars and restaurants.
"The hard part is that with some restrictions removed, customers feel that all restrictions are gone, so they have high expectations for what they can do," said Kamionka. "It's up to us to get this back on track and contain it to make sure we continue to adhere to the remaining restrictions. This has been our biggest challenge this week."
Kamionka said he was looking forward to higher sales but felt things didn't quite go back to life before the pandemic.
"Customers still have to sit at a table, you can't get up in a bar, there's no dancing … it's more of a challenge for people," said Kamionka. "There are a certain number of people who are still afraid of being out and about or not having been vaccinated."
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