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'Happy dine-in day': Bloomington begins reopening Saturday amid COVID-19 pandemic



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People sit outside of Yogi’s Bar and Grill on May 16 in Bloomington. Indiana stores and bars are beginning to reopen with restrictions and regulations to promote social distancing. Alex Deryn

Less than an hour after opening Saturday, the second-story patio at Brothers Bar and Grill was already at its new capacity. 

Yellow signs plastered to the windows out front of the building shone like bright beacons, drawing in college-aged young adults, who, for the first time in months, ate hot bar food and sipped colorful mixed drinks out of tiny pitchers.

“We’re open!” the signs said. “All clean. All safe. All good.”

Monroe County’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order expired at 11:59 p.m. Friday, allowing restaurants and some businesses to open with limitations. Brothers opened at 11 a.m. the next morning, setting up around half a dozen outdoor eating spaces in addition to tables inside. 

But Brothers and other open businesses have had to make changes to ensure they minimize possible spread of the coronavirus, said regional manager Drew McDonough.

“A lot of it is having cooperation from the guests,” McDonough said.

To make sure Brothers stayed under the 50% capacity limit, one employee held a tally counter in each hand, one blue and one pink, and clicked them both each time someone came in. Just in case.

Caution tape blocked off the bar areas and every other table to adhere to social distancing and other health rules set by health officials.

Masked employees acted as hosts to show customers, in groups of six or fewer, to their table, which McDonough said was to keep them from meandering around.

All the dance floors were closed, too. There will be no live music, no DJs, no sweaty bodies carelessly bumping into one another — for a while.

***

At Social Cantina, two tables were already occupied before noon. 

A waiter in a mask and purple latex gloves walked over to a table and warmly greeted two women who had arrived in cloth masks of their own. 

“What is up, friends?” he asked them. “How are we today?” 

As the diners chatted, a young man called out to them as he passed the restaurant.

“Happy dine-in day, everybody,” he said. “Happy dine-in day.”

***

There wasn’t much to do inside College Mall.

A few dozen hopeful shoppers wandered around slowly Saturday afternoon, scanning storefronts to see which of the few open ones were worth their time. 

Most groups tried to stay away from each other. Many people wore masks, but a noticeable number still went without.

People browsed at Foot Locker, a phone accessory kiosk and Francesca’s. But the majority of stores — including Ulta, Old Navy, Macy’s and GameStop — remained closed. 

A man in a mask massaged a customer at Home Spa.

The inescapable wall of scent that usually overwhelmed the hallway near Bath and Body Works had all but vanished from the closed store. Just two months ago, it was packed with panicked shoppers who thought buying the place out of its tiny hand sanitizers would be enough to keep them safe.

One mask-less woman rifled through the racks at the otherwise empty Express, touching hangers and clothes to find the best deals and sizes for her. 

A voice on the loudspeaker interrupted the music to thank shoppers for maintaining social distancing and remind them to stand away from one another while in line to check out.

“Express love, express yourself, and now — more than ever — express together,” the voice said. 

***

Great Clips did its best to maintain distance, setting up chairs both inside and out so customers could give each other space. Signs emphasized that masks were required to enter the store. 

Inside, masked hairdressers chopped away at overgrown manes. The buzz of conversation hinted at times that were once normal.

Sid Rao, who just finished his graduate studies at IU, saw it was more than a two-hour wait when booking an appointment online, so he came straight to the store instead.

He said he hadn’t been waiting long, although the customer next to him had been there over an hour.

Rao said his last haircut was about a week before lockdown. His hair hadn’t bothered him much while he was at home, but he said he wanted to finally get it cut because he could.

“I mean, why not?” he asked.

***

Although Chocolate Moose opened picnic tables for outdoor dining, all three sat empty around 8 p.m. despite long lines at the walk-up window and inside.

IU graduate student Daniel Gallimore and his fiancee Lauren Watson decided instead to walk back to the parking lot, open the hatch of their dark red Volkswagen Jetta and perch on the edge of the trunk to eat their ice cream.

The couple said they’ve been ordering takeout to eat at home or somewhere outside during the stay-at-home order but didn’t feel comfortable returning to eating at a restaurant just yet. 

“It’s way too early to be doing that,” Gallimore said.

“Definitely,” Watson said.

Even at Chocolate Moose, with its pink stickers on the ground to mark social distance for customers, Wilson said the model wasn’t perfect. She noticed people were trying to stay away from each other, but some weren’t wearing masks.

Gallimore said he hoped to be able to get out more during the summer, but he knew it still might not be the best option.

“Every single opening up is motivated by economics or politics,” Gallimore said. “It’s not enough to convince me, anyway.”

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