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COVID-19 in Maryland Health Care Working & the Economy

Hogan Shutters Md. Restaurants and Main St. in Annapolis Becomes a Ghost Town

Main Street in Annapolis was like a ghost town shortly after 5 p.m. Monday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

On Monday morning, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) ordered Maryland restaurants, movie theaters, bars and gyms to close.

By Monday evening, Main Street in downtown Annapolis was a virtual ghost town.

The sidewalks were barren. There were dozens of empty parking spaces. And most telling, restaurants were deserted, save for a few customers awaiting carryout orders.

At one establishment, row after row of tables sat empty, with silverware and folded napkins laid out for diners who weren’t coming.

At another popular restaurant, a small crowd clustered near the center of the bar looking at menus. A state legislator ordered an adult beverage while waiting for his dinner to emerge, bagged to-go.

Every food establishment seemed to have a new sign in the window.

At Osteria 177, the sign announced that the dining room is closed “until further notice,” with carryout available from 5-8 p.m.

At Annapolis Ice Cream Company, there are “revised hours.” Establishments that rely mostly on walk-up sales hope they will see only a modest drop in business.

With new health-driven restrictions seeming to arrive by the day, the ban on in-restaurant dining — the latest incremental subtraction from daily routine — felt both shocking and inevitable.

It poses a huge threat for an industry that operates on small margins, where failures are not infrequent and many workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, business owners said.

Jean Louis’ Cafe Normandie, a Main Street restaurant, has cut back to one front-of-the-house employee, a woman taking phone orders, assistant manager Brian Davis said.

“It’s going to affect a lot of the people I work with,” Davis said. “Our sales are going to go down.”

Davis said he understands and supports the decision to order establishments like his closed. The hope is that — by limiting social interaction — communities can flatten the curve on COVID-19 so that the health system isn’t overwhelmed.

“It’s becoming a global issue, so if there’s anything we can do to help speed up the process of helping to get rid of it, I understand.”

Davis said that if the shutdown lasts more than “a couple weeks,” some businesses — particularly newer restaurants that have yet to cultivate a following — could fail.

He worries about workers for whom tips are essential. Many are“just getting by” as it is, he said.

A customer sitting in his car outside a restaurant, reading email on his phone while waiting for his carryout order to come from the kitchen, said the shutdown order “should have been done sooner.”

“We’re better off doing what needs to be done right away, then people will adjust,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “The uncertainty is killing everybody.”

Maryland is one of many states taking drastic steps to curtail public interactions in the wake of the spread of COVID-19. Health officials worry that unless people stay away from one another, the number of cases will spike, overtaxing the health system’s ability to cope.

Davis said some patrons called in to order gift cards in the hours after Hogan’s announcement, and that Monday’s carryout orders were higher than normal, signs that his regulars were aware of the threat posed by the shutdown order.

Photo by Bruce DePuyt

“We actually had the mayor come in today, too, just to provide some local dollars before we had to shut down,” he said. “It’s really nice to see the community stepping forward to help out a little bit.”

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Hogan Shutters Md. Restaurants and Main St. in Annapolis Becomes a Ghost Town