Once it’s safe to go out again, how the tourist-focused businesses of New Paltz are operated is likely to be quite different than anything seen before. That’s an expectation held by some local entrepreneurs, which they discussed during an online forum last Thursday.
Michelle and James Walsh, owners of Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters & Cafe as well as the Gardiner-based Yard Owl Brewery, were the guest speakers at this week’s forum. Both of their businesses have been shuttered to on-site customers since March 16, and while the brewery has ample space to safely welcome visitors back once the governors allows it, the cafe is tiny and social distancing not very feasible given its layout. The Walshes are renovating the space to make customers feel safe coming inside at all. There will also be less indoor seating, and they are expecting that fewer people will want to pay with cash, which is a stark contrast for a shop where credit cards weren’t even accepted just a few months back.
The idea of what being open to customers with social-distance restrictions in place makes Lagusta Yearwood, owner of Commissary and Lagusta’s Luscious, “nervous,” out of a concern for having to become a “hall monitor” for customers. Before the mass closure, employees moved tables apart, and customers “pulled them back together.” Michelle Walsh agreed, saying that visitors to the market continued to congregate in the seating area outside her shop even after it was closed to minimize spread of the virus, which can be spread by people who do not manifest symptoms.
“People want to gather and talk,” said James.
Theresa Fall, who owns the Jar’d Wine Pub and co-owns the Parish restaurant in Water Street Market where Mudd Puddle is located, echoed concerns about how the tourist season will be impacted by the pandemic. “We get through the winter because of the summer,” she said, and that’s when the money is made to pay the rent for the year. Fall has been approved for funding under the Payroll Protection Program for one business, which may soften that blow. The Walshes said that all their employees were college students whose families wanted them back home; they are expecting to run the cafe with only the help of their eldest daughter for the time being, according to James. He’ll manage Yard Owl on his own.
As the economic shutdown continues, business will continue to be operated in new and unusual ways. Yearwood said that “selling a pound of asparagus with a latte” is not out of the question to bring money in. The new New Paltz may feature a lot less customer contact and a lot more unusual pairings such as that one as business owners struggle to keep the lights on.