Coronavirus updates, Featured

Inns can open 100%

Business owners navigate changes as lodge, bar restrictions are lifted

By Katy Savage

Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday, Sept. 18 that bars could reopen and lodges could operate at full capacity, but local business owners are wary of the details.

“It is very misleading,” Trailside Inn owner Josh Eckler said, explaining that the state’s quarantine map heavily restricts out of state travel.

“While I’m sure there is a small handful of properties hitting the previous maximum occupancy cap [of 50%], we are operating at very low levels because of the map,” Eckler said. “It’s the equivalent of telling someone they can drive 100 miles per hour when they have a broken car. It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is because you will never get there.”

Vermont’s travel map restricts 94.2% of the out-of-state population as people traveling from any county with more than 400 active cases of Covid-19 per million. Those residents can’t come here without quarantining first.

Laura Conti, the marketing director at Mountain Top Resort, said much of the tourism industry is being lost to New Hampshire because of Vermont’s rigid travel restrictions.

“We’re competing with states like New Hampshire, who have seen an increase in tourism that ordinarily would have come to Vermont because there were fewer restrictions to travel there,” Conti said. “Resorts in Vermont may now be allowed to book up to 100% of our rooms, but there just aren’t that many travelers right now to actually fill them.”

Conti said the busy summer season has already passed and the governor’s announcement might be too late for guests to consider booking fall trips.

“The damage [to the bottom line] is already done,” Conti said.

Courtney Lowe, the marketing director at the Woodstock Inn, echoed Conti’s statements.

“The occupancy increase is helpful and will help offset some losses, but the cross-state travel restrictions are still a hindrance,” Lowe said.

Inn at Long Trail owner Murray McGrath said people are wary of traveling, even with the occupancy lift.

“For Columbus weekend we should be filled already,” McGrath said. “People are hedging their bets.”

The cancellation of fall bus tours and events has also hurt lodges.

North Star Lodge owner Dean Romano said he probably won’t hit full capacity this fall because of the lack of busses and events, but he’s hoping for a better winter season.

“People are just nervous to travel and be exposed outside their comfort zone,” Romano said. “It’s been a big negative for our business this summer.”

Restaurant owners are experiencing a similar dilemma as the governor announced bars can open, but there must be a Lexan barrier between customers from separate parties to keep them 6 feet apart.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business 29 years, I have no idea how to make that work,” said Phil Black, the owner of the Lookout Tavern, explaining there would be complexities to managing the plastic barrier if parties of different sizes want to sit at the bar.

Restaurants are further hindered by the state’s 75 person maximum indoor capacity. Black said opening seats at the bar would require taking away seats at tables.

“I’d love to have a mix of both, but I can’t take seats away,” he said.

Chris Karr, the owner of six businesses (three being restaurants) in Killington, echoed Black and said he was waiting for indoor occupancy restrictions to be lifted.

“It’s just a step in the [right] direction,” Karr said.

The governor’s announcement comes at a time when restaurants are removing outdoor seating as the colder weather sets in. While some restaurant owners are eager to serve more people, some are taking precautions.

Robert “Sal” Salmeri, who owns The Nite Spot, which has a 277-person capacity and Mogul’s Sports Bar and Pub, which has a 299-person occupancy, said he won’t open to full occupancy this winter, even if the governor allows it.

“We’re not even going to attempt to put more than 100 people in each building,” Salmeri said. “Our goal is to make our customers feel comfortable.

“It’s a trial and error thing,” Salmeri said.

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