Area businesses are literally following the state’s “Take It Outside” direction for fall operations as they look — and seek help — to keep both cash and customer flow coming as cold weather begins.
Business and government leaders in Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown all report applying for, and some already getting, grants through the state’s “Take It Outside” program, which aims to keep businesses operating outdoors.
“We know that being outside reduces the risk of transmission of this virus and are asking Rhode Islanders to get creative and take it outside whenever possible,” said Gov. Gina M. Raimondo.
“For months, we’ve had to find innovative ways to resume everyday activities while slowing the spread of COVID-19,” she said about the program. The move comes in part due to national health experts’ findings that the transmission rate of COVID-19 is nearly 20 times higher indoors than outdoors.
This effort also marks her plan to keep tight social gathering restrictions in place and without a deadline for ending them.
“At this point, I am not inclined to do any changes until we have a vaccine,” she said in an interview. Against that backdrop, her “Take It Outside” grant program is a response to businesses’ wanting more help from the state to sustain cash flow and customers in the coming months.
Many local businesses are dependent on tourism dollars, which are now disappearing along with the summer months.
They have said slower fall and winter months, coupled with social restrictions and virus fears, might break their backs and drive them out of business.
In the first round of grant funding from this $5 million special program, the town of South Kingstown and the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce received $50,300 as part of their joint effort to help businesses, said Robert Zarnetske, South Kingstown town manager.
The money will be used mostly for outdoor heat lamps, tents and other necessities that businesses will require for outdoor activities normally held inside as fall weather brings colder chills and brushing winds.
“Whether this is going to work is unknown,” he said. “I think the business community appreciates the state trying and the town willing to help.”
Joseph Viele, executive director of the chamber, echoed similar thoughts.
“We have heard from many businesses for info and guidance and I believe quite a few were able to apply successfully. I think weather is the key here. A mild fall will allow many to continue outdoors with the program; conversely, a severe stretch of weather will make it difficult,” he said, calling the businesses “a resilient bunch.”
Those receiving funds in the first round were: Ichiban Karate and Fitness, Wakefield, $3,500; George’s of Galilee, Narragansett, $3,700; and Caf Bar, Wakefield, $4,300. Hungry Haven, Charlestown; Pump House Music Works, Wakefield; Catrina restaurant, Narragansett and Phil’s restaurant, Wakefield each received $9,700.
A second round of funding will also be available. State officials said they expect to make an announcement this week.
Zarnetske reports that he has submitted an application in the second round to support the following businesses – Pump House Music Works, $50,911; Shaidzon Beer Co., West Kingston, $8,500 and Tavern on Main restaurant, Wakefield, $2,900 in total requests.
Chip Samson, co-owner and business manager at Shaidzon, said the money could help prolong outdoor service.
“We are heavily relying on our outdoor space at Shaidzon right now and we know that window is closing for comfortable outdoor service as things get colder and the days get shorter,” he said.
Sampson said he wants the grant to pay for outdoor heaters, lighting, security cameras, WiFi access points and a tent.
Peg Fradette, executive director of the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce, confirmed her chamber has received $50,000 from the program.
Coronavirus restrictions threatened to upend this town’s traditional Festival of Lights, a community-wide celebration of the holiday that includes many themed activities, such as choral singing, shopping in local stores and a tree lighting ceremony.
It also hosts various merchants offering sales, restaurants offering food specials and other events aimed at bringing the community together and helping support local businesses in the Pier section of town.
Many festival activities have been held inside during past years, but restrictions on numbers of customers, social distancing and preparations for these changes made it near-impossible to do this year, said Fradette.
The town already had to cancel other large gatherings, such as the Calamari Festival and the Blessing of the Fleet celebration, due to fears of spreading the virus and other restrictions.
Fradette said this grant, though, offered an opportunity to bring everything outside and continue the tradition in some different ways. Many local organizations and town agencies are also helping pull it together, she added.
“I’ve always had this idea of having a European holiday fair at the Pier and this seemed the right time to do it. I know there would be challenges, but I also know it’s possible,” she said.
So, with this money the chamber will be organizing outdoor activities with the same groups and providing them with rented heat lamps, tents and other equipment needed to set up outdoor stations.
She said that the design focuses on having people stroll – not congregate – around the Pier and nearby Boon Streets to where booths and tents will be staged.
“It’s spread the cheer, not COVID, at the Pier,” she said of the theme and idea behind this effort. The festival will run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6, with fireworks and tree lighting accenting the event.
James Tierney, town manager, said he has applied in Round 2 of Take It Outside funding for about $64,000 for outdoor heaters, disposable blankets and exterior lighting.
These would be given to various restaurants and businesses so that they can operate in the colder months ahead, he said.
Ralph Mollis, town manager in North Kingstown, said businesses and restaurants in his town have experienced the same difficulties as other towns following the start of the pandemic in March.
“At this point seating capacity is determined by the State of Rhode Island and Governor. I am hoping that increasing the indoor seating capacity is up for consideration as the weather changes,” he said.
However, Gov. Raimondo has recently dashed Mollis’s hope – and perhaps that of other officials as well – that her Phase 3 restrictions would change.
“As much as I would like to relax these regulations, I am confident that is not the right thing to do,” she said last week. “We have to stay in Phase 3 and just hold on for a few more months until we have a vaccine.”
Mollis, also a former statewide elected official, knows that state leaders and on-the-ground local leaders grapple with both similar and divergent interests of their constituencies. He advocated for some relaxing of the restraints.
“Our businesses and restaurants have had to endure many challenges over these past seven months and I am confident that increased capacity can be accomplished in a safe manner,” he said.
He noted that town officials have been regularly discussing the business and restaurant challenges as a result of the changing weather and COVID-19.
“We have worked with the Chamber of Commerce in an application they have submitted for a “Take It Outside” grant,” he said. “I am hoping some of the proceeds of that grant will be available to businesses who wish to take their retail or dining services outside as well as the possibility of an outside event sometime in November or December.”
Kristin Urbach, executive director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, said she has applied for a $150,000 grant in Round 2 for heat lamps, tables, tents and other materials to help local businesses.