Barriers were installed on May 5, and by the end of the week expanded outdoor dining was ready for use at many restaurants in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square.
By Ronni Newton
Restaurateurs in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square wasted no time expanding their footprints into the outdoor dining corrals that Department of Public Works employees created with concrete and plastic barriers, beginning the process of seasonal transformation that last year not only helped restaurants struggling due to the pandemic but also brought a European flair and enhanced vibrancy to the community.
Despite Wednesday morning’s chilly rain, crews deployed barriers along Farmington Avenue – where the Metropolitan District Commission was able to complete a water main project in the nick of time – as well as LaSalle Road, South Main Street, Memorial Road, and Isham Road.
Bob Cooke, managing partner for Max’s Oyster Bar on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center, immediately went to work getting the restaurant’s expanded outdoor area ready for use. Crews started the deployment in front of Max’s Oyster Bar, and within hours Cooke and several of his employees were arranging the tables.
By mid-day Thursday, most of the restaurants already had tables and chairs filling the corrals so they could be put to use.
According to the Town of West Hartford, roughly 460 additional outdoor dining seats will be created through the installation of the corrals, which create a total additional dining area of nearly 15,000 square feet.
The spaces will be undergoing further personalization as the season progresses, with colorful umbrellas, plantings, and lights to make each corral unique.
And later this month, the surfaces of the barriers will become even further beautified as ArtBarrier Murals are created on the cement surfaces. Local artists have been commissioned by the West Hartford Art League to lead the creative efforts.
The crowdfunding campaign for the murals far exceeded the $5,500 goal to qualify for a Sustainable CT Community Match Fund grant, raising $7,435 from 113 patrons.
On Sunday, May 16, a community paint day will be held to paint the barriers in Blue Back Square, and Sunday, May 23 will be the community paint day in West Hartford Center. Further information on how to register as a volunteer will be forthcoming soon.
Renderings for the layout of the corrals, and an overview of the parking and traffic flow changes can be viewed here.
As of May 19, all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses are scheduled to expire, with the exception of the indoor mask mandate.
For restaurants that means there will no longer be a requirement for tables to be at least 6 feet apart or separated by a barrier such as plexiglass. Many establishments are likely to keep some plexiglass in place or retain some extra spacing, especially when they have the use of extra outdoor seating, while patrons gradually develop a greater comfort level with indoor dining.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revised its guidance about the need to wear masks outdoors, particularly in spaces that are not crowded or by those who have been vaccinated, signs requesting that people wear masks remain in place in West Hartford Center, where many of the sidewalks are narrow.
For now, there are no plans to remove the signage. “We’re going to keep the signs in place until we receive additional guidance from state on or before May 19,” Town Manager Matt Hart said.
COVID-19 cases have declines dramatically in West Hartford over the past few weeks. According to data reported by the state on Friday, there were only two new cases among residents, and just 33 in the past week.
West Hartford had dropped from red alert status to orange several weeks ago, and as of data reported Thursday is now in the “yellow” zone, with 8.9 new daily cases per 100,000 of population based on a 14-day average. That average reflects the 14-day period April 18-May 1.
Vaccination rates in West Hartford continue to be high, with 65.03% of all residents having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. That percentage is based on the town’s entire population, and includes residents ages 15 and under who are not yet eligible. Charts below, provided by the state indicate the high levels of vaccination for other age groups.
The state has awarded the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District a share of $13 million in federal grant money to be used to form partnerships between local health, community organizations, and providers to promote and increase vaccine equity.
Director Aimee Krauss said the Health District will receive $156,481. Much of that will be used to hold evening and weekend clinics in Bloomfield, but Krauss also said extra efforts have been launched in West Hartford to hold vaccination clinics for food service workers and salon employees. The clinic in the former ShopRite store at 46 Kane St. in West Hartford, which administers the Moderna vaccine, has also been added to the state’s list of walk-in vaccine locations.
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