At least two restaurants in Oxford County are preparing to reopen Monday, while another in Franklin County plans to welcome customers back June 3.

According to Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan, restaurants in every county except Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot and York will be allowed to reopen to dine-in customers starting May 18, as long as they follow physical distancing and other guidelines to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Ryan Ricci, owner of 290 Maine Street in Norway, said he is reopening Monday and rehiring 25 employees.

“We’re taking some of the tables away, spacing out the seating, and opening up our outdoor area a little earlier this year,” he said. “We’ll have a lot more hand sanitizer, 6-foot waiting lines and reservations to get a table. We’re doing everything (the state) wants us to do and then some.”

Ricci said he knows some businesses will decide to remain closed despite Mills’ updated plan, which he agrees with.

“I know that’s a question that will be going around: can we open, and if so, should we?” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a right answer.”

“It’s each person’s choice to make,” Ricci said. “For us, we’re emphasizing that while we’d love people to come out, if you’re high risk, staying at home is still a very safe and secure thing to do.”

Ryan Ricci, owner of 290 Maine Street in Norway, will reopen his restaurant Monday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

For Ricci, it’s been the support of the community that has kept him afloat the past two months.

“We’ve had about 150 messages from people saying that they can’t wait for us to reopen and that they’re ready to come back,” Ricci said. “It’s going to be hard when we open, because we’re so used to being the neighborhood Cheers bar, the place everyone knows your name. It’ll be tough to make people have to stand farther away and follow these social distancing rules, but it’s important to do.”

Aaron and Amanda Ouellette, owners of Daddy O’s Restaurant in Oxford, also plan to reopen Monday fore eating in and have revamped their floor plan to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Over the past several weeks, Ouellette said, the restaurant has transitioned from dine-in to takeout and curbside pickup.

“Before the virus, we were 95% dine-in,” Aaron Ouelette said. “We definitely had to do some thinking outside the box to stay afloat. Fortunately, we’ve been in the industry for a number of years, so we were able to tighten our belts quickly and make sure we’re not bleeding out unnecessary costs.”

In Farmington, Rachel Jackson, owner of Farmington D restaurant, said she saw the writing on the wall before the governor issued an executive order requiring nonessential businesses to close to the public in mid-March.

Jackson said she considered staying open but reviewed all aspects of offering takeout and decided it was not cost effective.

“We really are a sit-down restaurant,” she said, though she is grateful for her takeout customers.

“I think the governor is doing what she needs to do,” she said, to keep people safe.

Jackson plans to reopen Wednesday, June 3, two days after the state allows, because they the restaurant is closed Tuesdays.

“Thank the good Lord everybody’s coming back,” Jackson said.

Committees have been formed to make sure the restaurant will have everything it needs to comply with the state order.

Three plush dogs wearing face masks sit in the window display of The Tribune bookstore in Norway. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“You don’t just reopen,” she said. “There is lots of planning to do, including for a food shortage.”

Fitness center

Damian Osgood, owner of No Limits Fitness in Farmington, said he’s weighing his options on reopening soon.

“My opinion on all of this is it is really like being stuck between a rock and hard place,” he said.

There is so much different information, he said, “You don’t know what to believe.”

Osgood said the state has kept businesses in the lurch about the reopening plan until the last minute.

“We need to know ahead of time what the plan is, not just one day,” he said.  “You don’t even know until they tell you. It is too vague; too promising.”

Osgood said he has lost about $30,000 since the COVID-19 restrictions shut his and other gyms down.

“I still have to pay rent, insurance, utilities … It is a significant amount,” he said.

Even before the order to sanitize items was issued, employees were wiping down equipment daily, he said.

Part of the order involving gyms would let one-on-one training occur, he said, but he would have to drive to the gym and open it every hour. He also doesn’t have the space to hold fitness programs outdoors.

“Its tough,” he said. “I will make it through, even if it is the end of the summer, we will be here. We will make it work,” he said.

Antique store

Route 26 Antiques in Oxford reopened Monday, welcoming longtime customers as well is new ones, owner Keith McKinnon said.

“It feels awesome to be back open again and hopefully start the recovery process,” he said.

The store on Route 26 is limited to 45 customers inside at one time, based on the size of the building.

“We’re practicing social distancing and we’re asking people to follow the guidelines for face coverings based on the CDC,” McKinnon said.

Library, bookstore

The Paris Public Library is holding a “soft opening” this week by taking reservations for half-hour visits.. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Paris Public Library is holding a “soft opening” this week, library coordinator Mike Dignan said.

“The board wishes to have a ‘soft opening’ by allowing people to book appointments to bring back materials and check out items,” he wrote on the library’s Facebook page. “The hope is we can ease into opening without a lot of people bringing back a lot of materials in just a few days.”

The library will reopen to the public Tuesday, May 19, with with several precautions in place, according to its Facebook page.

Dignan wrote that the Maine State Library recommended that libraries should have “no more than five visitors in the building at one time,” with visits limited to 30 minutes and no more than two members of a family allowed in at the same time.

In Norway, Adrienne Cote, owner of the Tribune Bookstore on Main Street, said that while her business could reopen Monday, she’s electing to stay closed until things are safer for staff and customers.

“With bookstores, customers browse here and there,” Cote said. “It’s not orderly, like at Hannaford, where customers walk down an aisle in one direction, and a different direction in the next aisle.”

She said it’s hard to keep track of the books customers touch while browsing, which makes it difficult to keep the store as clean as it could be.

“Right now, I’m not in any rush to open,” Cote said. “I want to do it in a smart way, a way that’s safe for me and my customers.”

Cote said she and the Norway Public Library staff have teamed up to co-sponsor a story hour every Thursday in May to stay connected with residents.

“We’re just trying to be inventive and engaged with our customer base,” she said.

Several businesses and restaurants from Oxford and Franklin counties did not respond to emails and phone calls for comment.

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