Some COVID restrictions are being lifted, but Danbury-area business owners are mixed on impact

Danbury-area businesses appear to have mixed feelings about Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision to ease some restrictions in March and April.

The state is lifting capacity restrictions for businesses including restaurants, retail spaces, houses of worship, libraries, gyms and more starting March 19. Each of these sectors can return to 100 percent capacity but must continue enforcing safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

“We obviously are happy that our businesses have more ability to open, but we’re just continuing to press that everyone should do it safely and securely — and with all of their clients and customers’ safety first and foremost in mind,” Sarah Grossman, executive director of the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce said.

Grossman is among several who do not expect Lamont’s rollback to produce immediate or major changes.


With capacity limits lifted, restaurants will still be required to abide by the 11 p.m. curfew and bars are to remain closed unless serving food. Roberto Moro, manager of Bethel restaurant La Zingara, said restaurants won’t be able to open at full capacity, given the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions that requiring spacing.

“It doesn’t really impact us because everything has to be socially distanced,” he said. “When the good season comes out, we’ll have our patio open and that’ll be a huge difference.”

Moro said he believes nothing much will change because socially distanced tables won’t allow the restaurant to add more, which in his eyes mean it will virtually be the same.

Matthew Rispolli, manager of the Wire Mill Saloon & Barbecue restaurant in Redding said they are “absolutely excited about Lamont’s announcement.”

“It gives us the opportunity to maximize our space,” he said. “I think Lamont’s done a pretty good job allowing restaurants to function while protecting the public.”

The restaurant can add a couple of tables to its space under the new rules, but is choosing not to as a safety measure and to make its patrons feel comfortable dining in, Rispolli said. The restaurant will continue socially distancing customers and keep plexiglass up around its tables.

Larger event spaces

Event venues will be permitted to have a maximum of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors beginning March 19. Private gatherings will be capped at 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

For event spaces, the easing of restrictions will have a delayed affect. Events are usually planned well ahead of time, and require meticulous oversight and forethought.

“We didn’t suddenly get an infusion of new weddings,” said Suzanne Brennan, executive director of the historic Lounsbury House. “Our weddings book at least six months in advance.”

They’ve been steadily booking weddings for 2021 and 2022, and the new guidelines haven’t had a great affect on scheduling yet, although people could add guests.

Brennan said the announcement of new guidelines was slightly misleading, due to space restrictions. Even though the facility is an event space, its layout means that they can still only do events of 50 guests with about 10 staff. They can’t do 100 people due to space limitations and adherence to social-distancing mandates.

Pre-COVID, Lounsbury could fit 150 people into its indoor event space. During the pandemic, they’ve cut back and have done 25-person “mini-weddings” where the list of people in the facility had to include staff and catering.

Brennan said they could host larger numbers for outdoor events.

“We have our fingers crossed that come summer, there will be some even greater relief,” she said.

At the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury, the news of increased indoor capacity will have greater affect, but still doesn’t mean back to “business as usual.”

“For us, a 100-person event is wonderful and that helps us significantly, but we’re accustomed to doing events of 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 people,” said owner and general manager Doug Polistena.

Even so, within a few seconds of Lamont’s announcement in mid-February, Polistena was on the phone with a bride who had postponed her wedding last year. He said she almost started crying because she was so excited she could have her event.

Polistena is seeing an uptick in inquiries since the announcement, but like Brennan, said events take a lot of foresight and planning.

“It’s going to take some time for the industry to bounce back,” he said. “We’re optimistic, but we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Houses of worship

Danbury-area house of worship leaders said easing restrictions may have a small affect as the faithful prepare for Easter and Passover.

The reason: Some churches that have been meeting face-to-face are at capacity because of social distancing. Some synagogues that have been closed have been successful meeting virtually with congregations, and that may continue for the time being.

For churches such as St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, the sanctuary holds a maximum of 200 people, distanced six feet apart. Lifting capacity restrictions won’t add more people to the worship service, since they will still have to be socially distanced.

“Every church that I have been in is skipping every other pew, so I don’t see how this is going to make a difference,” said Monsignor Robert Weiss, the pastor at St. Rose. “In some of the bigger churches it will, but the smaller churches are going continue to have a tough time.”

Weiss said scores of parishioners attend church in their cars from the parking lot, following the service virtually and receiving communion that is delivered to their car door.

For synagogues which have been closed this winter, such as Temple Beth-El in Danbury, online services have replicated the face-to-face experience so well that they are planning to celebrate Passover online.

It was too early to say this week whether Temple Beth-El and other congregations would elect to have in-person services along with a virtual experience.


Ridgefield Library Director Brenda McKinley said even for a larger space, such as the library, social distancing stands in the way of increasing capacity.

“We’re all hopeful that things are going to get better as 2021 progresses, but I don’t really see it [the capacity changes] making a huge difference,” McKinley said. “That doesn’t lift our social distancing or anything else, and that really affects what we’re doing and how our staff can work safely.”

The library announced it would expand its in-person hours slightly and continue offering virtual programs and curbside pickup while staff works in a hybrid model.

Lamont plans to further ease limits. As of April 2, outdoor amusement parks are allowed to open and indoor stadiums will have the green light to hold events at 10 percent capacity. Capacity for outdoor events will increase to 50 percent and a maximum of 10,000 individuals.

Additionally, the state advised summer camps and festivals can plan stages for a season opener.

Lamont’s announcement comes as hospitalizations slow across the state and towns plunge into mass vaccination efforts against COVID-19. Travel restrictions will no longer be obligated or enforced, but used as guidance.

While other states have loosened their grips, Lamont said Connecticut will not follow their lead.

“This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi. This is Connecticut. We are maintaining the masks,” Lamont said.

He plans to continue adhering to safety measures because he “we need to continue taking this virus seriously to mitigate its spread as much as possible,” he said.